Virginia Democrats are hoping to take a page from Nevada’s playbook and remove their obsolete 2006 same-sex marriage ban from the state’s Constitution. Not surprisingly, Republicans want to leave the ban exactly where it is. Read on for the full story.
Virginia Republicans Want to Keep Obsolete Same-Sex Marriage Ban on the Books
Back in 2006, a slight majority (57%) of Virginians voted to officially define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, effectively barring LGBTQ couples from receiving the same rights and protections under the law as opposite-sex couples. The ban went into the state’s Constitution, where it’s remained ever since. Now, Democrats want to include a question on the ballot asking 2022 voters whether they want to remove the ban from the Constitution.
While the Obergefell ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide takes precedence over state constitutions, ultra-conservative judges like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are chomping at the bit to overturn it. With former president Trump’s far-right additions to the Supreme Court, marriage equality is in jeopardy like never before, even with President Biden acting as a steadfast supporter and ally to the LGBTQ community.
Should the conservative judges succeed in overturning marriage equality laws, the matter gets kicked back to each individual state. So, while it may seem like removing the bans is merely a ceremonial gesture to signal support for the LGBTQ community, if Obergefell falls, it could mean the difference between a married gay couple maintaining their marital status (and rights) or losing them entirely.
Repealing the ban would “remove a stain,” Democratic senator says
Sen. Adam Ebbin, (D-Alexandria), first openly gay Virginian lawmaker in the General Assembly and sponsor of the proposal, said in a statement published by Virginia Mercury that removing the ban would also “remove a stain on the Constitution.”
The proposal, which has already been approved by both the House and the Senate in Virginia, would replace the archaic definition of marriage would more inclusive phrasing, declaring that all marriages are equally “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.”
Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) expressed optimism for the proposal, saying,
“I think we’ll get an overwhelming response that we want equality in our state.”
Before the proposed amendment can make it onto the 2022 ballot, it must pass through another round of votes in the House and the Senate. During the first round, the House voted 60-33 while the Senate vote was 24-12. However, as Virginia Mercury points out, several members of each didn’t vote the first time around (including three Democrats).
GOP lawmakers want to keep same-sex marriage ban exactly where it is
The proposal includes explicit wording designed to placate the far-right exempting religious figures and organizations from being forced to participate in same-sex marriages. During the last round of voting, that was enough to get just under a dozen Republicans on board. However, more than 50 House and Senate republicans either opted out of voting or voted against it.
Among them stands Trump loyalist Sen. Amanda Chase, who is apparently even too out there for most Republicans, as her own party voted to censure her last week. Chase claims that she’s “taking a stand for traditional values,” adding,
“I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. If other people choose differently, that’s their choice. But I do not believe that this should be a constitutional amendment.”
Chase’s opponent in the 2022 Senate race, Kirk Cox, also voted against the proposal. His campaign mouthpiece said,
“Delegate Cox’s faith informs his view on the nature of marriage. He respects the rule of law and the Supreme Court decision, but these votes are a matter of conscience.”
Conservatives against gay marriage make up minority
While far-right conservatives often carry the loudest bullhorn and the highest soapbox, they actually make up a minority in America. Remember, according to Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 poll, 70% of Americans favor marriage equality. That includes members of nearly every religion. In fact, only white evangelical Protestants are overwhelmingly against LGBTQ rights (63%).
However, it seems that the Virginia GOP doesn’t fall into the nearly half of Republicans who support marriage equality. Late last year, they censured their own Denver Riggleman for officiating over a same-sex wedding (as well as for not getting on board with Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud).
“I voted for this because it is important to address the language in Virginia’s Constitution which has been held unconstitutional.”
Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, (R-James City), voted to get rid of the ban, although he voted in favor of it 15 years ago. He stated,
“I recognize that times change. I recognize that Virginia has changed. And I recognize that there is a new cadre of legislators who have different perspectives on what the policy of the commonwealth should be.”
Repealing the ban is part of an ongoing attempt to make Virginia more inclusive
As mentioned above, ditching the ban is primarily symbolic right now (although that could change). However, it’s an important part of an ongoing effort by Virginia Democrats to ensure the health, safety, and equality of their LGBTQ constituents.
Over the last two years, lawmakers passed the Virginia Values Act to stop gender- and sexual-based discrimination and also outlawed conversion therapy for minors. Along with repealing the defunct same-sex marriage ban, lawmakers are also putting forth bills to create a Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and repeal an HIV criminalization law.
The House also voted to pass a bill stopping those who murder LGBTQ citizens from using the “panic defense.” As the LGBT Bar explains, that defense is ” is a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.” Dozens of US defendants nationwide have literally gotten away with murder using that defense.
The Virginia House of Delegates just voted 58-42 for my bill HB 2132 to ban the gay/trans panic defense. 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️
— Del. Danica Roem (@pwcdanica) February 5, 2021
Despite Republican opposition, if the first round of voting is any indication (and if House Democrats keep their majority), the proposal will very likely make its way to the ballot next year, where Virginians will have final say. However, it’s absolutely vital that voters prevent Republicans from winning back House majority this November. Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said it best. Regarding the proposal, she stated,
“We have to correct that horrible, disgusting mistake that was made.”