Openly gay legislators aim to repeal Virginia’s remaining bans on gay marriage
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage last summer, many states still have language on the books which bans the practice and Virginia is on that list. The high court’s ruling supersedes state laws on the issue, however the words remain.
Ahead of the 2017 General Assembly (GA) session, bills have been submitted to remove any trace of such bans from the Commonwealth’s code and Constitution, and the two legislators who have penned the legislation have a personal investment in the issue.
“We feel an obligation to work for marriage equality and to make sure its a priority in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D- Alexandria), who has been openly gay since he entered office in 2012. He joined in submitting the legislation with Del. Mark Sickles (43- Fairfax), who entered the GA in 2003, but didn’t come out as gay until 2014. ”I believe it is our responsibility as openly gay legislators and Virginians that these issues get heard and eventually get passed.”
“I think that, with the Republican platform being as extreme as it is, with the discussion we had at the GA this year over the religious freedom issue, the feedback I got from my republican friends made me feel like it might be time to pass this,” said Sickles.
Sickles had signed on to similar legislation in the past, but this is the first year he’s been the main sponsor of such bills.
Virginia’s history of banning same-sex marriage started back in the 70′s. The ban was first put into the state code in 1975 after Richard Baker and James McConnell, two University of Minnesota students, applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis and were denied.
The Baker case, which never made it to the Supreme Court, became the blueprint for a number of state bans including Virginia’s which has stayed on the books ever since.
There’s also a ban on the state recognizing same-sex unions which was put in place in 2004.
The Marshall-Newman Amendment passed in 2006 with 57% of the Commonwealth’s population supporting the measure. It put the ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia’s constitution which remains to this day.
The state code dealing with these issues could be removed if they pass the House and Senate in 2017 and end up on our pro-LGBTQ Governor’s desk, however the Marshal-Newman Amendment would take a bit more work.
Amendments to the constitution have to pass both Houses two years in a row with an election for GA members in between. The 2017 session is the perfect session for this, but if it doesn’t pass , the soonest we could see a referendum would be 2020.
Then there’s the issue of the Code Comission, the archaic committee which usual deals with banal state code but was burdened with numerous LGBTQ related billsafter Virginia Republican leaders sent them there inexplicably. Members of the commission told GayRVA it could take up to two years for the bills to get reports. And while its not required, committees can refuse to hear bills which are awaiting reports from the Code Comission. They can even stop public comment on legislation dealing with these issues meaning they could silence LGBTQ voices hoping to over turn these now debunked laws.
Ebbin called the the push for a constitutional Amendment “hopeful,” but called the Code Commission, which currently has bills similar to both marriage-related legislation, “a hurdle.”
“I think polling shows that Virginians support the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and I think Virginians want our constitution to be in conformity with the law of the land,” said Ebbin who hoped to see the legislation make it through both houses despite the Code Commission hold. “Its important that people who read the law of Virginian know it is accurate and the law is enforced. And that gay and lesbian couples are full and equal citizens and deserve the same dignity under the law that other couples enjoy.”
Similar legislation has been submitted annually with little success, but Sickles thinks the GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, who has wavered on LGBTQ issues depending on the season and year, might end up swaying some legislators on the right.
“My prediction is that Donal Trump will repudiate these sections [of the GOP Platform] that are so hard on gay rights issues,” Sickles said. “It might open up an avenue for people to say ‘no, we don’t want to be associated with that kind of thinking and even our presidential candidate agrees.’”
Trump has most recently said LGBTQ issues should be left up to the states, which would do little to support Virginia’s LGBTQs in the GOP-controlled House and Senate.
The 2017 Legislative session starts in January of next year, however new and old legislation is already being entered into the system. We’ll keep an eye on LGBTQ issues and more as they develop.
(Top image: Left, Sen. Ebbin – Right, Del. Sickles)
A Code Commission hold can silence groups from telling their stories in front of lawmakers.July 13, 2016
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