Del. Joe Morrissey has taken Tip O’Neill’s famous maxim “All politics is local” to heart. “Show me a lazy legislator that doesn’t work to get [legislation] passed – I’ll show you someone that’s not active in the community,” says Morrissey. “Fifty Sundays a year, I visit another church in addition to my own – I’ve been doing that ever since I was Commonwealth Attorney – it’s not politicking, but you’ll see that people will come up to you and talk to you about the issues.”
Morrissey, in his four years representing the 74th District, has acquired a reputation for his hard-hitting, blunt style. Morrissey believes that that forthrightness on issues important to him has been a major asset politically.
“That’s part of what people really like about me,” he says. “[People say] ‘Joe I don’t agree with you on all the issues, but what I really really like is you say the same thing each time. You answer questions, and you have conviction’.”
One issue on which Morrissey has made his position clear is that of LGBT rights in Virginia.
“I have told some of my colleagues to get ahead of the curve on gay rights,” Morrissey says. “I heard a professor at UVA say… students on college campuses view gay rights the same way students a generation or so ago view[ed] civil rights, and now civil rights are taken for granted.”
Despite Virginia’s worrying track record on gay rights- most notably 2006′s Marshall-Newman Amendment, which outlawed marriage equality in the state constitution- Morrissey believes Virginia’s legislators will eventually see the light.
“Don’t think that every conservative Republican is anti-gay because they’re not,” he says. ”Years ago, you would not see a commercial of an interracial couple – do you focus on it now? You see it all the time, you don’t think about it. It’s become much more accepted. Similar with gay rights – we’re not there yet. It’s going to be sooner rather than later. We’re not regressing. [Conservatives] are just posturing for that rabid base.”
One of Morrissey’s major defenses of the LGBT community in Virginia occurred in spring of 2010, when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent out a letter to state universities forbidding them to implement policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Morrissey wasted no time voicing his opposition to Cuccinelli’s actions.
“When Cuccinelli issued his edict…I took to the [House] floor everyday to give a floor speech that culminated with almost 300 VCU students marching down here,” Morrissey says. “I don’t like bullies – haven’t liked them since I was 13 years old. I don’t like people that are in a position to take advantage of people, then do it. That’s what I saw with Cuccinelli’s position.”
Morrissey says that he sees it as a moral responsibility to take a stand against discrimination, regardless of whether or not one is affected personally by it.
“There’s an old saying…’Bad things can happen when good people do nothing about a serious situation’,” he says. ”I’ve always lived by that motto – I don’t care if it’s people with special needs, the mentally ill, children with autism, I’m going to be a voice for those that don’t have a voice. I’m not going to tolerate anyone bullying a gay group or any other group.”
At the end of the day, Morrissey believes Virginia will make significant progress on LGBT rights when they are no longer seen as a partisan issue.
“If people stand up on both sides of the aisle to support gay rights…even if someone is conservative…they will respect you on other issues,” he says. ”Not to mention it’s the right thing to do.”
“Okay, anything else?”October 6, 2016
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