Delegate Robert G. Marshall has said that disabled children can be God’s vengeance against women who have had abortions. He has described incest as sometimes voluntary, and he has questioned the sexuality of a Supreme Court justice who has favored marriage equality.
But unlike W. Todd Akin, whose offhanded reference to “legitimate rape” cost the GOP a winnable Senate seat from Missouri in 2012, Mr. Marshall is unbowed over his history of controversial rhetoric as he seeks a seat in Congress representing Northern Virginia.
“I don’t care. I mean, if I say something in public, I say it in public,” Mr. Marshall said Thursday.
Democrats, who have built dossiers aggregating the delegate’s more outrageous statements from recent years, have been salivating at the prospect of his emergence from a GOP primary field this month seeking to replace retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf.
Unlike Mr. Akin, who appeared to be speaking extemporaneously when he said women’s bodies know how to “shut down” pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape,” Mr. Marshall’s comments aren’t gaffes.
Speaking before a pro-life group last year, Mr. Marshall offered a long and detailed argument that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage was unsympathetic to social conservatives.
But it was the statement with which he capped his remarks that stood out.
“For all I know, Kennedy’s a homosexual,” he said. “You can’t be doing some of these things without this kind of conclusion.”
Like many of his other comments, Mr. Marshall stands by it.
“Clearly, some of the people who are making these decisions must be rationalizing their own bad behavior,” he said Thursday.
In 2010, at an event calling for an end to state funding for Planned Parenthood, Mr. Marshall suggested that women who have abortions are more likely to face “vengeance” from “nature” in children with a greater likelihood of having developmental disabilities.
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” Mr. Marshall said.
The comment prompted rebukes from all corners and generated a rare statement of regret from Mr. Marshall, who said his remark was misconstrued.
“No one who knows me or my record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an offensive notion,” he said afterward. “I have devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children and have always maintained that they are special blessings to their parents.”
Mr. Marshall’s predilection for inflammatory rhetoric isn’t new.
The author of a 1989 Boston Globe column asked him about his opposition to all abortion — even in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Mr. Marshall, then the research director for the American Life League, posed a baffling question of his own in response.
“What if incest is voluntary?” Mr. Marshall said. “Sometimes it is.”
Mr. Marshall confirmed the stance Thursday, but he said the author was missing the point and that the position is based on what is written in law.
“It doesn’t make it right or legal,” he said. “It just gives the facts.”
Mr. Marshall also has introduced some of the General Assembly’s most conservative bills on social issues.
A staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, he co-sponsored the eponymous Marshall-Newman Amendment that voters approved in 2006 banning same-sex marriage in Virginia. A federal judge this year ruled it unconstitutional.
Mr. Marshall has repeatedly introduced “personhood” bills to secure civil and legal rights for the unborn from the moment of conception. In 2012, he also introduced a measure that would require women to undergo ultrasounds before having abortions. The legislative effort created headaches for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who ultimately requested an amendment to water down the bill after the news went national and the state became the butt of jokes for late-night comedians.
Mr. Marshall, one of the most ardent opponents of the Affordable Care Act, introduced a bill in 2007 that would have established a health care exchange in Virginia akin to what would become known as Obamacare.
With critics charging hypocrisy, Mr. Marshall said he did it at the request of the conservative Heritage Foundation and for the purposes of getting a ruling on its fiscal impact.
Among fellow lawmakers, Mr. Marshall is barely tolerated in his own party anymore. His hard-line stands and controversial rhetoric have relegated him to committee assignments in Richmond that do not reflect his seniority. He doesn’t attend caucus meetings.
But Mr. Marshall has a following among hard-core conservatives.
He has launched two U.S. Senate bids in the past six years. Although both fell short, he came within about 70 votes out of more than 10,000 cast in his 2008 run for the GOP nomination against former Gov. James S. Gilmore III. He finished third in a four-way primary contest in 2012 won by former Gov. George Allen.
Although only scant polling has been conducted in his current race, Mr. Marshall says he thinks he has solid support in the April 26 firehouse primary — a contest in which he is working to leverage his outsider status.
“For standing up for you and the Constitution of Virginia, I was stripped of all my seniority for 16 years,” the Republican told the crowd at a debate Wednesday evening. “I would do it again in Washington because I work for you, not a clique there.”