November 2, 2017 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Democratic Va. candidates highlight LGBT support before Election Day

Justin Fairfax, gay news, Washington Blade

Justin Fairfax is running against state Sen. Jill Vogel Holtzman (R-Fauquier County) in the race to succeed Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam. (Photo courtesy of Justin Fairfax)

Marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues remain front and center ahead of next week’s elections in Virginia.

Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam, who is running against former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe, on Oct. 23 appeared alongside Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and others at Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City.

Northam specifically applauded Attorney General Mark Herring for his 2014 decision not to defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Danica Roem, a transgender woman and former journalist who is challenging state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) in the 13th District, also spoke at the event.

“We need to welcome people to Virginia,” said Northam. “It shouldn’t matter your sexual orientation. It shouldn’t matter the color of your skin, the country you come from or the religion that you practice. We are all in this together. Let’s welcome people to the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Herring: Same-sex marriage ‘right thing’

Republican John Adams is challenging Herring, a Democratic former state senator from Loudoun County.

Adams has repeatedly attacked Herring over his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Virginia.

The Republican in 2016 told members of the Virginia Beach Tea Party the state House of Delegates should have impeached Herring after announcing he would no longer defend Virginia’s marriage amendment. An Adams campaign ad that features Carol Schall and Mary Townley — one of the plaintiff couples who challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban in federal court — and their daughter at a press conference with Herring is currently airing on D.C. television stations.

Herring told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview that Adams “doesn’t accept as valid” the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.

“It goes beyond his personal belief that same-sex couples should be marry,” said Herring.

“Marriage equality is the right thing for Virginians and their families,” he added.

Commonwealth Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) speaks at Equality Virginia’s Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond, Va. on April 16, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herring in 2015 said Virginia law gives local school boards the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. He and attorneys general from 18 other states and D.C. on Monday filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of a gay couple who argues they have the right under Colorado’s nondiscrimination law to purchase a wedding cake from a Christian baker in spite of his religious beliefs.

“Anti-discrimination laws in the commercial marketplace ensure equal access to goods and services and protections against the harms of discrimination,” Herring told the Blade. “Those are protections for everyone.”

Adams’ campaign did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

Fairfax praises Gavin Grimm, criticizes GOP opponent

Justin Fairfax is running against state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County) in the race to succeed Northam as lieutenant governor.

Fairfax on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Gavin Grimm, a trans former Gloucester County High School student who filed a lawsuit against the Gloucester County School District’s policy that prevented him from using bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, is “incredibly brave.” Fairfax also described President Trump’s decision to ban trans people from the military as an “awful” and “horrific ban.”

A federal judge in D.C. on Monday ruled the White House cannot enforce the policy while legal challenges to it make their way through the judiciary.

“People are really rejecting that type of discrimination,” Fairfax told the Blade.

Vogel, who currently represents the 27th Senate District that includes the city of Winchester and portions of Loudoun County, publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The Fauquier County Republican in 2013 voted to confirm Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland as Virginia’s first openly gay jurist and has backed measures that would have banned discrimination against LGBT Virginians in employment and housing. Vogel earlier this year and in 2016 voted for two religious freedom bills that critics contend would have allowed discrimination against them.

“As a strong supporter of tolerance and freedom, Jill Vogel believes that the same constitution which protects same-sex couples’ right to marry also protects the free exercise rights of ministers, who should not be compelled to participate in a religious ceremony which violates their sincerely held religious beliefs,” a spokesperson for Vogel’s campaign told the Blade in August in response to a question about LGBT Virginians for Vogel, a group that supports her campaign. “Jill’s vote on a bill to protect ministers does not contradict her opposition to discrimination. Rather, it reflects her live-and-let-live world view which holds that government does not belong in either the bedroom or the church.”

Vogel’s campaign did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment for this story.

Fairfax pointed out Vogel was among those who attended a Virginia Beach rally on Sunday during which Corey Stewart, the Republican chair of the Prince William Board of Supervisors who once chaired Trump’s campaign in Virginia and narrowly lost to Gillespie in June’s Republican gubernatorial primary, mocked Roem’s gender identity.

“Jill was there, said nothing,” Fairfax told the Blade. “Yet Jill claims to be a friend of the LGBT community.”

Roem: Marshall’s ‘hypocrisy truly knows no bounds’

Former President Obama and former Vice President Biden in recent weeks have both campaigned with the Democratic ticket. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) appeared with Fairfax and Herring in Richmond on Sunday.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll that was released on Tuesday indicates Northam is ahead of Gillespie by a 49-44 percent margin with Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra in third with four percent. The poll also notes Herring and Fairfax are ahead of their Republican rivals by a 49-43 percent margin.

Observers note the result of the Virginia statewide races will be a referendum on Trump’s first year in office. Roem would also make history as the first openly trans woman seated in a state legislature if she were to defeat Marshall on Nov. 7.

Marshall, who has represented the 13th District since 1992, is among the General Assembly’s most vocal opponents of LGBT rights. He has also repeatedly attacked Roem over her gender identity throughout the campaign.

Campaign flyers that Marshall distributed last week used male pronouns to describe Roem. Voters in the 13th District earlier this month received anti-trans robocalls from the American Principles Project, an organization that opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples and champions other conservative causes.

Marshall in an email he subsequently sent to his supporters included a link of a 2015 interview with American Principles Project Chair Sean Fieler in which he said society is “wrestling with the idea of whether or not we want to accept that people exist independently of their bodies as really the transgender community is claiming as we should.” Fieler, who lives in New Jersey, donated $20,000 to Marshall’s campaign on Sept. 11.

“Delegate Marshall’s hypocrisy truly knows no bounds: Saying that I’ve made my gender an issue while he spends two mailers attacking me for being trans and standing up for LGBTQ kids and misgenders me while he’s at it,” said Roem in an Oct. 28 email.

Both Fairfax and Herring applauded Roem when they spoke to the Blade.

“She’s running a great race,” said Fairfax. “There could not be a more stark contrast to Bob Marshall, who has made his career about discrimination.”

Equality Virginia and the Human Rights Campaign are among the organizations that have endorsed Roem. They also back Northam, Fairfax and Herring.

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade

Danica Roem canvasses in the Sudley area of Manassas in Prince William County, Va., on June 20, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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