State attorneys general have no obligation to defend laws they believe are unconstitutional, the U.S.' top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, says.
The comments by Holder, who is scheduled to address the National Association of Attorneys General Tuesday, were made in the wake of decisions by six state attorneys general to refuse to defend bans on same-sex marriage, the New York Times reported Monday.
Holder said such decisions were "appropriate" for an attorney general to make.
He equated gay rights campaigns for equal rights to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, calling gay rights one of the "defining civil rights challenges of our time."
"If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities," Holder added, referring to the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down segregated schools.
Holder's remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen of Wisconsin, where four same-sex couples have sued to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.
"We are the ultimate defenders of our state constitutions," said Van Hollen, a Republican. "There is no one else in position to defend the State Constitution if it comes under attack."
State attorneys general in Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia have chosen not to defend bans on same-sex marriage. Attorneys general in California and Illinois declined to defend bans that were ultimately overturned.
Original headline: Holder says state AGs don't have to back gay marriage bans
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