Richmond City Council Affirms Support for Same-sex Partner Benefits by Narrow Margin (Updated)
In a divisive meeting Monday evening, the Richmond city council approved an ordinance extending benefits to same-sex partners — that is, once the rest of the state allows it.
The ordinance, which will “to the extent now or hereafter permitted or required by law… extend all benefits offered to the spouses of city employees in heterosexual marriages to the partners of city employees in same sex marriages that have lawfully occurred in other states,” is essentially symbolic, as Virginia still has a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution.
However this ordinance, according to 2nd district Council President Charles Samuels, will prepare the city for when the state recognizes same-sex marriage.
“From day one, there will not be the ability to do certain things because of the plans we didn’t make now…” he said.
Though Samuels admitted voters across the city would probably support this ordinance as 70% of Richmond voters did not approve of the same-sex marriage amendment when it was put on the ballot in 2006.
The ordinance’s public comment period gave insight into how Richmonders felt about the issue of same-sex marriage, even if this bill was only symbolic.
Charles Everett Hughes, of South Side Richmond, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying homosexuality was a sin, and city council would be going against God’s will if they passed any kind of support for it.
Charles Everett Hughes
“I never dreamed there would be a time like this, but it says the devil has many of his demons and many of his people working for him… God says, in his word… when a man lies with a man or a woman lies with a woman, its an abomination unto God and he says you shall be put to death,” said Hughes. “Anybody that calls themselves a christian, the holy spirit would not condone things that are contrary to what all mighty God says is wrong.”
Similar opposition was lobbed by Richmond Resident Dr. Angela R. Jones who said LGBT people were actually all hypnotized into their sexuality.
“The truth is, instead of worrying about if or when same-sex marriage happens, most of them have been found to be hypnotized,” said Jones.
Dr. Angela R. Jones
Jones did, however, acknowledge the benefits section of the proposed ordinance. “So the benefits that need to be explored are mental health, not same-sex marriage… what will you do with the masses of homosexuals or gays to get them de-hypnotized? This is what we should be talking about right here.”
The public comment supporting the bill was similarly spirited, as leaders from the LGBT community spoke about the importance of this City Council move, even if it was symbolic.
“Symbols have meanings,” said Kevin Clay, a Richmond native and long time LGBT-activist. “This is not about moving our state to change its laws, today you have the chance to show your support and respect for all city employees. This is about continuing to build a foundation for a city government that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.”
Gay Community Center of Richmond Executive Director Bill Harrison spoke in support of the bill as well. Another long time Virginia resident, Harrison said the arguments he heard opposing the bill sent chills down his spine.
“It wasn’t because they were talking about me, it was because they transported me back 50 years to when I was a child growing up in South Side Virginia and white ministers were trying to convince us with the same arguments that God sanctioned segregation,” said Harrison. “I share that with you, because no matter what anyone else said today, I know who I am… I know doing the right thing is not always easy. It’s real hard sometimes. But if this was a paper being introduced back in the 50′s when it was legal to discriminate against black people the same way we currently discriminate against LGBT people, would you see it as someone else’s problem?
As public comment came to a close, all members of City Council spoke to the issue.
4th District Councilwoman Cathy Graziano said she looked forward to the day when same-sex marriage would be recognized, but making a law, even a symbolic one, that cannot be enforced was not appropriate. “If City Council wants to send a message, then I feel we should use a resolution. If we want something in the code, then its a law,” said Graziano, who then said she would abstain from voting on the ordinance.
3rd District Councilman Chris Hilbert, however, spoke more specifically on the issue of same-sex marriage and the state’s history with the bill. Hilbert went as far as to call the 2006 same-sex marriage ban a “stain on the Virginia constitution.”
“We’re all human beings, and we as a governing body here, need to send a message and if that message goes over across the street to the general assembly, then I’ll say mission accomplished,” said Hilbert. “I’d like to send the message that we, in 2006, stained the constitution of VA with a very discriminatory law…”
When the bill passed, a cheer went up across the City Council chambers, but President Samuels quickly extinguished the ruckus, as any kind of applause or otherwise is not allowed.
Vote break down:
Baliles – yes
Hilbert – yes
Newbile – yes
Samuels – yes
Agelesto – yes
Trammel – no
Mosby – no
Robertson – no
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