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Va. lawmakers kill proposal to repeal gay marriage ban

HJ665 would have repealed the Marshall-Newman amendment passed in 2006

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Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
James Parrish, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday voted 6-1 to kill a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Delegate Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced HJ665 on Jan. 9, the first day of the current legislative session. He told the Washington Blade after the vote he feels “people affirming their love to each other and living in committed relationships is a universal human right.”

“It’s a civil right,” Surovell said. “I don’t think that the constitution should prohibit the government from recognizing people’s love and commitment to each other solely because of their sexual orientation. I think it’s wrong and it’s hateful.”

Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria,) who is among the more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored HJ665, expressed disappointment that the House Privileges and Elections Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee killed the proposal.

“Virginia is going to have to re-visit this issue either because the public demands it, because we are forced to by the Supreme Court or because corporations make it clear that they’d rather move to D.C. or Maryland in order to protect their employees,” he told the Blade in a statement. “Marshall-Newman is so broadly worded, that it puts even basic contracts in question. Ultimately, I’d like us to be talking about an amendment to add marriage freedom to our constitution. But as today’s action shows, we have work to do to even allow for basic contract rights between two people.”

Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) agreed.

“I did not support the Marshall-Newman amendment when it passed and believe the time is now for it to be repealed,” he said.

Virginians in 2006 approved the amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

A similar ban passed in neighboring North Carolina in May by a 61-39 percent margin.

Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Lawmakers in Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Jersey are expected to debate same-sex marriage proposals in the coming weeks.

“We’re deeply disappointed that the House committee has voted to overlook this resolution that would repeal Marshall-Newman,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said. “It’s a shame that Virginia cannot catch up with a wave of national change since marriage equality is now a winning issue on the ballot.”

Surovell conceded to the Blade he was “not optimistic going into” today’s hearing in spite of public opinion polls that indicate growing public support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in Virginia since voters approved the Marshall-Newman amendment. He referenced the House of Delegates’ vote last May against gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the Richmond General Court to further prove his point.

The Richmond General Court in June appointed Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers failed to fill the vacancy — his term is slated to end at the end of next month if legislators do not approve his appointment. Members of the General Assembly Committee of Judicial Appointments are schedule to interview Thorne-Begland later today.

“I suspect that the only thing that will change whether this [SJ665] eventually passes is the change in control of the House of Delegates because the current majority is beholden to the Family Foundation,” Surovell said. “Last year I had a surreal evening when at 1 a.m. on the last day of session I’m sitting there watching my body debate whether a 14-year decorated naval aviator who’s been putting away murderers for five years is qualified to be a judge presiding over traffic tickets because he happened to live in a committed same-sex relationship with children while the Family Foundation sits in the balcony watching the whole thing. I thought there was something wrong with that. That’s the way it is in Virginia right now.”

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Maryland

Bomb threat shuts down Takoma Park holiday drag show

MotorKat evacuated when Tara Hoot was performing

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Tara Hoot was performing at MotorKat in Takoma Park, Md., on Dec. 9, 2023, when a bomb threat forced the business' evacuation. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Police cordoned off a popular strip in Takoma Park on Saturday after a bomb threat shut down businesses, including a holiday performance by drag artist Tara Hoot.

MotorKat General Manager Mike Rothman told the Washington Blade that Takoma Park police notified them of a bomb threat to their business around noon.

Tara Hoot was delivering a holiday brunch performance at the MotorKat when the evacuation order came in.

Rothman said they were notified “five minutes into her final performance.” Tara Hoot herself told the audience to leave for their safety.

Police proceeded to tape off the area and evacuated all businesses between Eastern and South Carroll Avenues, including TakomaBevCo, which is co-owned by MotorKat Wine Director Seth Cook.

Cook told the Blade that police brought in “bomb-sniffing dogs” to clear the area before allowing businesses to reopen around 2 p.m.

“The timing is unfortunate as this is one of the busiest weekends before the holidays,” Cook said.

Rothman was also disappointed by the lost revenue due to what ultimately was a false threat, but he was firm that the Takoma Park LGBTQ community is resilient and would continue to thrive despite this setback.

“Takoma Park is a pretty proud and resilient community,” he said. “I don’t expect people to lay down and be scared by this.”

MotorKat and TakomaBevCo reopened for business around 3 p.m.

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Comings & Goings

Jimmy Alexander joins WTOP News as a feature reporter

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Jimmy Alexander (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Alexander)

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations, and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

Congratulations to Jimmy Alexander who has been hired at WTOP News as a feature reporter. Over the last four years Alexander has been covering stories as varied as the Jan. 6 insurrection to the 17th Street High Heel Race. He has been working as a co-host on the Jack Diamond Morning show on Cumulus Media, Manning Media. On his acceptance of the new position Alexander said, “I’m thrilled that at WTOP News, I will be able to focus on events and people that bring hope to your heart and a smile to your face.”

Alexander is a versatile multimedia broadcaster with more than two decades of experience covering both major news events in Washington D.C., and important human-interest stories outside the Beltway. He is an engaging interviewer with a track record of having compelling conversations with the biggest names in government and show business, from presidents to Paul McCartney. Prior to this he worked as a freelance feature reporter with WDCW50-DC News Now. He is also with Writer-20, Twenty Country Countdown, United Stations Radio Networks. There he developed a concept for a countdown show featuring country music’s weekly top songs on-air and online and prepared weekly scripts for a three-hour show. 

Alexander conducted the only Jan. 6, 2021 interview with “The QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley. Since 2016, he has served by request of the D.C. mayor as official host of the 17th Street High Heel Race, the city’s second largest LGBTQ event of the year. He is featured in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and is a frequent guest on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day.” He covered White House visits by Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, and the yearly Easter Egg Roll. He also won $10,000 on the game show “Pyramid.” 

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LGBTQ University of Maryland students prepare to celebrate Hanukkah

Eight-day festival to begin Thursday night

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A number of Hanukkah events for LGBTQ students will take place at the University of Maryland this week.

Queer Jewish students and allies are welcome to attend Crazy Cozy Chill Chanukah Celebration on Sunday at the University of Maryland Hillel. Hamsa, home to queer Jewish life on campus, hosted a study break with hot drinks, snacks and games and a chance to welcome Hanukkah early. 

The first night of Hanukkah is Thursday.

Chabad UMD is hosting a menorah lighting on Thursday in front of McKeldin Library and plans to mention the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Rabbi Eli Backman of Chabad UMD. The event is going to be a focus on the positivity and the message of the Hanukkah story.  

“We’ve been around for thousands of years and all those who’ve tried to make sure that we didn’t live to see the next generation (is) no longer here,” Backman said. “That message will really resonate at home for the holiday.”

The story of the Maccabees is one of the few stories where Jewish people fought, Backman said. In Jewish history, people don’t see a military response in many of the other holiday moments. 

“It should give us a boost of energy,” Backman said. “A boost of strength (and) a boost of hope.”

Part of the Hanukkah story’s message is that Jewish people were in a position that they needed to form a military to secure their borders, Backman said. And they succeeded. 

For some, celebrating Hanukkah depends on the people they’re around, Florence Miller, a sophomore English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies who is Hamsa’s president, said.

Miller is agnostic and does not find themself to be a religious person, but the thing that has kept their Jewish faith is the people about whom they care are Jewish and the sense of community that comes from being Jewish.

“I just wanted to do a Hanukkah event,” Miller said. “It’s been a good refresher with how the semester has been.”

Miller last year attended a Hanukkah party and played a game of dreidel, a spinning top with four sides marked with a Hebrew letter. The people who were in attendance wanted to bet something, but the only thing they could find were pinto beans. 

“When I took them out of my pocket one got stuck in there,” Miller said. “I still have that bean.”

For some Jewish students it’s important to go to Hanukkah events like Hamsa’s celebration to be around like-minded Jewish people, Yarden Shestopal, a sophomore American Studies major, said. 

“Which is why I like Hamsa,” Shestopal said. “Since we’re all queer people or allies we kind of share that mentality of acceptance.”

Being part of the Jewish community at the University of Maryland has opened Shestopal up to how diverse the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are. Shestopal this year, however, debated whether or not to put his menorah up on the windowsill of his apartment because of the rise in anti-Semitism due to the war in Israel.  

“I’m pretty sure I am going to put the menorah in my window,” Shestopal said. “The only way to combat anti-Semitism is to stay visible.” 

Several University of Maryland students lived in Israel before or during their time at the university. 

Elisheva Greene, a junior animal science major, went to seminary, a school for women to learn about Torah, during the pandemic. Greene said celebrating Hanukkah while a war is happening is going to be a similar feeling. 

“I’m able to do what I can from over here by supporting my family and friends,” Greene said. “The biggest thing I can be doing is living my life as a Jewish person and showing that I express my Judaism and I’m not afraid.”

Greene recalled they could not go more than 1,000 feet from home for two months and Hanukkah took place during that time. While it was difficult, Greene said people still put their menorahs on their windowsill.  

“Knowing the resilience the Israelis have and the fact people like to show their Jewishness (is not) gonna stop me,” Greene said. “Like there’s a war going on but you’re gonna be a Jew and you’re gonna flaunt that.”

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