The four gay and lesbian couples who filed a lawsuit against the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban received a standing ovation as they walked onto the stage at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish joined them.
“Your strength, your bravery and your courage have been a source of inspiration for thousands and thousands of Virginians, including myself,” said Herring.
Herring — who announced shortly after taking office in January 2014 that he would not defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban — said that more than 1,500 gay and lesbian couples have legally married in the commonwealth since Oct. 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s gay nuptials lawsuit. He also noted Virginia now recognizes the marriages of thousands of same-sex couples who legally married in D.C. and other jurisdictions.
“The children of same-sex couples are finally getting the protections they need and deserve,” said Herring.
Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marc Solomon of Freedom to Marry are among those who also spoke during the dinner.
“Last year I stood up here as Equality Virginia kicked off its’ 25th celebration anniversary,” said Parrish. “I remember saying it is no longer if we will have marriage equality, but when. Now we know when it was. Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. And that’s what we’re going to celebrate tonight.”
Herring, Kaine, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott are among those who have signed onto amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the four cases in which they will hear oral arguments on April 28.
“In just 10 days the highest court in the land is going to hear a chorus of millions, including from the commonwealth of Virginia, that the right to marry is a guaranteed right for all Americans,” said Herring.
LGBT Virginians lack statewide legal protections
Many of those who spoke during the dinner that Virginia does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its statewide anti-discrimination or hate crimes law.
A bill that would have banned anti-LGBT discrimination against state and local government employees passed in the Virginia Senate in February after Northam cast the tie-breaking vote. The Virginia House of Delegates General Laws Subcommittee later killed it.
Efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in housing and “conversion therapy” to minors also failed during this year’s legislative session.
“The reality is here in Virginia even though you can I do, someone else can say oh no you don’t,” said Equality Virginia board member Geneva Perry, who is also the vice president of Hampton Roads Business Outreach, which is an affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.Members of the House General Laws Subcommittee in January killed state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County)’s “conscience clause” bill that would have allowed state licensed or accredited business owners to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs.
Parrish made a broad reference to the anti-gay Prince William County Republican during the dinner, but he did not mention his controversial measure.