Last Legislative Fight for Marriage Equality in Virginia Killed for General Assembly Season
A House Committee voted today to table the only legislation removing Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, effectively ending the fight for marriage equality this legislative session.
House Bill 939, which would repeal “the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage,” was sponsored by Delegate Surovell (D-44). While many legislators submitted bills aimed at removing the same-sex marriage ban from the state’s constitution, no constitutional amendments will be heard this session because amendments can only be heard in sessions divided by an election.
Surrovell’s proposed bill would not legalize gay marriage, but rather it would take the language out of the Code of Virginia. A popular vote and successful passage of two General Assembly sessions would still be required to remove the ban on same sex marriage in Virginia.
“What marriage is about is loving and committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to each other and be responsible for each other in good times and bad,” said Surovell.
Surovell also stressed the economic benefits of same sex marriages. “When the state of New Jersey looked at the impact of civil union legislation on their economy, it had $248 million of positive economic impact,” said Surovell. He believes Virginia will see similar economic growth if the bill is passed. “Gay marriage has a positive economic impact. It generates tax revenue, and that’s a positive thing.”
Kirsten Bokenkamp of Equality Virginia also spoke in favor of the bill. “We believe that all Virginians should have the right to marry the person they love,” said Bokenkamp. “Virginians understand that marriage offers numerous benefits and possibilities, additional financial stability and security, and it would protect our children.”
Bokenkamp also mentioned recent polls show the majority of Virginians favoring marriage equality. “It is time to allow voters to decide if they want to make Virginia for all family and businesses,” calling the legislation “common sense.”
The bill’s opponents included the Virginia Family Foundation.
Chris Freund, Vice President of the Virginia Family Foundation, opposed the bill, citing that voters already decided on the issue. “This issue was settled in 2006, with 57 percent of Virginians voting on this [current] policy,” said Freund. “67 percent of Americans live in states where traditional marriage has been defined [by the legislature]. Only about 4.5 percent of Americans live in states where the citizens have decided to redefine marriage,” he said. “This clearly is an issue that is not quite as settled as the proponents of this bill would like you to believe.”
Surovell closed by addressing Freund’s concerns. “The constitutional amendment that was passed [that defined marriage as between a man and a woman] was now seven years ago,” Surovell said. “I think everybody recognizes that if you look at the polling nationally, it’s changed pretty significantly in those seven years, and it’s moving pretty rapidly.”
The bill was tabled, which means it was effectively killed for this session. However, four delegates opposed this motion, including two republicans: Democrat Dels. Keam and Tuscano and Republican Dels. Loupassi and Minchew.
“I was pleased that two Republicans opposed the motion to table the bill,” said Surovell after the committee hearing. “It shows progress in starting to change peoples’ mind in the legislature.”
The fight for marriage equality in Virginia could still come in the form of a judges order. There are currently two cases against the state over it’s same-sex marriage ban, the first of which is scheduled to be heard later this month in Norfolk.
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