Openly gay legislators rally to remove defunct same-sex marriage bans from Virginia law and constitution
While the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country last year, the language of state bans like Virginia’s remain on the books.
But Senator Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, along with Delegates Mark Sickles (D-43) and Mark Levine (D-45), have submitted numerous bills which hope to remove the now defunct prohibitions on same-sex marriage from the state code and constitution.
“I think the code of VA needs to reflect what the laws is,” said Ebbin in an interview with GayRVA. “People should be able to read the code of Virginia and know that it is accurate. I also think that gay people shouldn’t be insulted by the code of Virginia.”
Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1975. It was enacted after a gay Minnesota couple tried and failed to get hitched and took their battle to the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case. By the late 70s, six states put bans against the act on their law books.
Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the Marshall-Newman Amendment, was enacted in 2006 by referendum with over 60% of the Commonwealth supporting the measure.
Last years Supreme Court ruling trumps the state’s ban on same-sex marriage effectively making the code void. This isn’t the first time a Supreme Court ruling has changed an existing state law. In 1967, Loving v Virginia ended anti-miscegenation laws here in Virginia and around the country, allowing people of color and white folks to marry.
Levine pointed to Loving v. Virginia as a prime example of why the state needs to update its law books. “It’s important to make clear that Virginia obeys the Constitution,” he said. “I think it’s shameful that these laws are still on the books, just like it would be shameful if we had laws prohibiting Blacks and Whites from marrying as we used to have.
While miscegenation laws might seem antiquated, same-sex marriage’s recent success is a bit easier to track. Attitudes on the issue have changed nationwide as well as locally with a 2014 PRRI poll put support legal same-sex marriage at around 50% an opposition below 45%.
“People’s minds have already changed, it’s about changing the code to match the reality of society and the federal law,” Ebbin said.
There was some concern over LGBTQ bills like Ebbin’s even making it to the General Assembly this winter. Many sexual minority related bills from last year ended up being tabled and sent to the Code Commission which meets in the summer and some consider a legislative graveyard for bills legislators don’t want to vote on or talk about.
However those bills were kicked back to the full GA last month and they are now able to be resubmitted without issue.
That’s not to say they will have any chance of passing – it took the Commonwealth 11 years to overturn its sodomy law after the Supreme Court stuck them nation wide. James Parrish, Executive Director at Equality Virginia, acknowledged that but stressed the issue has to be dealt with eventually.
“They can continue to kick the can down the road, but at the end of the day, lesbian and gay people can get married and are getting married here,” he said.
There’s also the stigma such laws create as long as they remain on the books.
“I think serves as a reminder. The fact that the GA wont expeditiously act to take out things that have been found unconstitutional shows a desire for people who still support those issues,” Parrish said. “It’s a very simple up and down vote, to take a marriage ban from the code… it speaks to a climate that still exists in this state, at least by the people who make our laws.”
Levine has seen those beliefs first hand in his work in the GOP-dominated House.
“There is certainly resistance to same-sex marriage lingering in Virginia, that includes within the state legislature,” he said. “I think there are more Conservative people who believe in the second class citizenship for LGBT Virginians.”
Levine said his past attempts and failures at cleaning up the code, along with adding protections for LGBTQs, show just how needed the fight is, but he’s not totally lost hope yet – at least with these new bills.
“There are a number of Republicans, even those who are against LGBT equality, who do accept that fact that the Virginia state code books should say what is the law and not what isn’t the law,” he said. “So there is a decent shot of this working, of us getting these bills through.”
Removing the ban from the state’s constitution won’t be easy. Much like how it was enacted back in 06, it must pass the House and Senate twice divided by an election year. This means if it doesn’t pass this 2017 session, we won’t get another chance to strike it until 2020.
GayRVA will continue to follow these issues as they unfold when the GA starts in January 2017.
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