Gay marriage supporting Democrat Greg Hecht came out swinging during a Sunday debate at his opponent, Attorney General Sam Olens, for stubbornly refusing to drop his defense of Georgia's gay marriage ban.
That's quite a switch for a statewide candidate in Georgia, which often fields ballots full of anti-gay candidates and Democrats squirming their way around LGBT issues.
Hecht (photo), who has forcefully backed gay marriage, didn't hesitate during the Atlanta Press Club debate on Sunday.
The next question, this time directed at Hecht, a Democrat, dealt with defense of the state's law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Olens and his staff have been defending the ban in court, but Hecht has said if he were attorney general, he would not have defended the ban.
“We are not to defend unconstitutional laws,” Hecht said, paraphrasing one of President George W. Bush's solicitor generals, Theodore Olson.
“Attorney General Olens said, last year, if a law is clearly unconstitutional … you are not to defend it,” Hecht continued. “Twenty-five courts have said that the marriage equality ban is unconstitutional based on a violation of the equal protection clause, the due process clause and the privileges and immunities clause.”
Olens didn't budge.
Citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Olens responded that it would “pose grave consequences” for executive branch officers to not defend the law. “What Mr. Hecht is seeking is for the executive branch to play the judicial branch,” Olens said. “Totally inappropriate.”
Olens refused to say if he personally agrees with the law and fired back at Hecht, accusing him of flip-flopping on gay marriage.
“It’s not my job to state my personal opinion on same-sex (marriage),” Olens said. “I think it’s actually contrary when you are the attorney general to do so because, once again, my primary job is not to replace the courts but to defend Georgia law.”
Olens accused Hecht of changing his position on the issue for political reasons. Hecht opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions seven years ago when he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor.
Hecht said in July that if elected, he would drop the state's defense of its marriage ban and supports marriage equality. He also swatted down Olens' charge that he changed his views for political considerations. Olens has defended the state ban in court by arguing that gay marriage is not a “fundamental right.”
Hecht said his views changed four years ago when President Barack Obama announced that his own had evolved. Plus, he said as a lawyer, the decision of the 25 courts is a legal reason to see the ban differently now.
LGBT supporters hosted Hecht for a fundraiser on Sept. 16.
The debate was the third in recent days in which statewide candidates addressed gay marriage. On Oct. 7, Democrat Jason Carter strongly reiterated his support for marriage equality in a debate among candidates for governor. Michelle Nunn, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, used a debate last week to clean up her gay marriage mess.