Richmond Faith Leaders Gather to Oppose Unwritten Ordinance, Councilman Agelasto Explains OQA Benefits
Photo Via GayRVA Staff, Bishop Darryl Husband at Center
On an unusually warm late September morning, leaders from several Richmond area churches gathered on the steps of City Hall to oppose a still unconfirmed ordinance which vaguely promises to give benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
“This is not an issue about politics, this is an issue about morality,” said Bishop Darryl Husband, the leader of Richmond’s Mount Olivet Church. Husband went on to read, word for word, a copy of the Marshall-Newman Amendment, the 2006 voter approved bill that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman in the commonwealth.
Husband closed by stating that politics is something the church and his fellow clergymen do not often get involved in, “…but the scripture clearly states marriage is about procreation.” This theme of marriage being about procreation was hammered throughout the press conference.
“The issues of marriage, procreation, and family are clear in both nature and in scripture – two men in nature have never procreated, two women have never procreated…. it takes a female and male in marriage to procreate,” said Michael Hirsch, pastor of Calvary Christian Church. He also warned city council “every procreated life is a child, a child who should have a family, a mother and a father… its nature… and for human beings its pure and simple.”
Bill Harrison, Executive Director of the Gay Community Center of Richmond, was also in attendance for the press conference. He stood in back listening closely to the pastors, and spoke after they had wrapped their sermons.
“I found it interesting that the word ‘procreation’ was constantly used as a reason that scriptures instructs us to marry. I think people get married for reasons other than to have children,” said Harrison. “(Members of the LGBT community) have been conducting services for unions for years and we did it because we loved each other, that the government sanctions it had nothing to do with it.”
Harrison went on to thank the pastors for clearly laying out their arguments for the public to make their own decisions. “I was personally glad that they had this news conference as it opened the doors for us to state our case and in my opinion, they made their arguments look weak.”
The ordinance in question is actually not really finalized at the moment. When asked if any of the pastors had read the ordinance, they passed off a copy of a tabled ordinance dating back from late July. As GayRVA explained last week, the current ordinance being tossed around city hall is less about defining marriage, and more about securing the city for its eventual passage.
“Because of the Supreme Court Decision, and because of what appears to be a changing opinion in the public about gay marriage, we decided that now was the time to at least put in, start the process, so when it becomes legal in Virginia, the city wont miss a beat,” said Council President Charles Samuels.
Samuels also reinforced the lack of a real ordinance saying opinions within city council were still undecided, and he “anticipated seeing amendments to” the bill.
To further complicate the issue, and further put the bill in limbo, an interview with one of the bill’s main patron’s, Councilman Parker Agelasto, laid out the current status of the bill. “I’m hoping to have a conversation at the meeting on September 26th… but its going to get tabled.”
This is where the new ordinance gets complicated as tabling it is by no means this bill’s final resting place – rather, Aglesto hopes to lay out a broad plan that will give benefits to a much broader audience. “It’s still going to accomplish our goal of giving benefits to same-sex partners, but it’s also going to broaden the scope to include other non-traditional households.” This concept is called “Other Qualified Adults” or OQA.
OQA benefits deal with support to other members of a household that are not bound by a legal marriage. Agelasto used heterosexual couple who never chosen to marry, or adult siblings you care for as examples of people who qualify for benefits under OQA status. “It expands the affected population tremendously.”
Attempts at OQA programs in city and county governments in Virginia have tried and failed in the past. In 2008, Arlington county instituted an OQA policy which was later struck down by Virginia courts.
“Its going to face the same legal challenges our current paper does,” said Agelasto. “But it takes away some of the social dilemma the current paper faces that is too narrowly defined for a population… If it’s about equality and providing for long-term relationships, what other long-term relationships are not being recognized legally and can we also bring those into the conversation.”
Equality Virginia explains the OQA argument at length, saying “Almost 60% of the Fortune 500 companies choose to offer such expanded benefits to their employees.”
Agelasto said this OQA argument was leading the pack in their hopes of providing benefits for not only same-sex couples, but anyone possible in the Richmond City employee network.
When asked if taking the term marriage out of the city council resolution would sway Bishop Husband on his opposition of this bill, he stuttered through a response saying “This is never about anything else but protecting God’s word about marriage, that’s all… this would never be to deny them to receive medical attention.”
We’ll see what happens when Agelasto and other members of city council finalize this bill, until then, it’s all in the air.
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