Virginia’s public colleges and universities may be able to ban anti-gay discrimination after all.

Days after the state’s attorney general told the institutions that they couldn’t ban discrimination against gay people, the governor said they could. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s announcement came amid growing student protests about the attorney general’s policy and strong statements by some college officials that suggested they would ignore the attorney general. Both McDonnell and the attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, are Republicans.

Cuccinelli infuriated many students and faculty members in Virginia when they learned from The Washington Post that he had sent a letter to public colleges and universities last week saying that they lacked the authority to bar discrimination against gay people as part of their anti-bias policies. Cuccinelli argued that only the General Assembly could bar such discrimination and since it had not done so, the public colleges couldn’t.

If that logic held, many public colleges would have been forced to change their anti-bias policies, which do in fact include sexual orientation among factors on which discrimination is banned.

On Wednesday, as 1,000 students from Virginia Commonwealth University held a protest of the attorney general’s letter, the governor weighed in.

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