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In a case that could give gay marriage its first foothold in the old Confederacy, a federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday on whether Virginia's ban on gay marriage should be struck down _ the position the state's newly elected Democratic attorney general has endorsed, angering many Republican lawmakers.

In January, Attorney General Mark Herring's office notified the federal court in Norfolk that it would not defend the 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment in a lawsuit. Republicans have accused Herring of abandoning his responsibility to defend the state's laws. On Tuesday morning, a handful of protesters gathered at the courthouse. They shouted phrases decrying his position and carried signs: "Herring's herring. AG's must uphold the law."

Across the street, gay-marriage supporters _ in about equal numbers _ shouted their support for the plaintiffs and carried signs saying "Marry who you love."

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has rebuffed calls to appoint outside counsel to defend the ban. On Monday, Republicans in the House passed a bill that would give lawmakers standing in lawsuits where the attorney general and governor have chosen not to participate.


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