No Hearing for VA Constitutional Amendments This Session, Including Ban On Same-sex Marriage, But Not All Hope is Lost
Delegate Surovell speaking at the 2013 ‘Witness for Marriage’ Press Conference
In a Senate vote held yesterday, the The Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections voted unanimously to not hear constitutional amendments proposed this year, including the state’s amendment which bans marriage between same-sex couples. But one Delegates bill hoping to end the state’s ban will still be heard.
The explanation for the move is traced in Virginia’s political guidelines. In order to amend the state’s constitution, a bill must pass both the House and the Senate over two years separated by an election cycle, and then the bill must be put to a referendum. Because the next election in Virginia wont be until 2016, even if an amendment passed this year, it would have to survive two more years.
One of the those amendments, however, is the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. There are an unprecedented nine bills put forth to challenge the ban, but none of them will be heard following the Senate Committee’s vote.
Senator Donald McEachin (D-9), one of the members of the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, said in a statement his support for the vote comes from the GA’s procedural history and “has nothing to do with the substance of the amendment in this case.”
“Even though we knew this was an “off-year,”" said McEachin, who himself sponsored a bill to remove the marriage ban from the constitution. “That bill was introduced to raise awareness and lobby support for this critical issue. We stand firm on our desire to repeal Marshall-Newman and bring justice, fairness and equality to all Virginians.”
Former Republican Candidate for State Attorney General Mark Obenshain is head of the Senate Committee who made this decision, but he told the Washington Post he lost out on the chance to get one of his own amendments heard because of this move. Obenshain’s bill dealt with allowing the state to establish charter schools. Other amendments which wont be heard this year include one to establish a redistricting commission and another which would allow the governor to serve two back-to-back terms.
But not all hope is lost for affecting the state’s stance on same-sex marriage. Del. Scott Surovell sponsored HB 939, a bill that would remove 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.”
Surovell was the only house member to sponsor a constitutional amendment to the state’s marriage ban last year. The Delegate said even if constitutional amendments were being heard this year, or if the state removed its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the language in the state code would have to be changed, and that’s what his legislation would do.
“Changing the constitution only makes it possible for the legislature to repeal gay marriage.” Surovell said the original, codified language banning gay marriage stems from a law established in the 1970′s.
Surovell, much like many of his democratic counter parts, isn’t optimistic for the bill, but he’s not counting it out just yet. There are three Democrats on the House Courts Committee and Surovell hopes the remaining republican members step up to the challenge.
“If I can find four Republicans who will have the courage to cross party lines, and stand up for equality, we might have a shot.”
Surovell’s bill is set to go before the House Committee on Courts next Monday at 3:30 PM. It will be the only piece of marriage equality legislation heard the entire 2014 GA session because of the Senate’s ruling.
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