January 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Va. lawmakers kill proposal to repeal gay marriage ban
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A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday voted 6-1 to kill a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.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“I did not support the Marshall-Newman amendment when it passed and believe the time is now for it to be repealed,” he said.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.”

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

  • Not surprised. In Virginia if you take away Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area, what do you have left? Mississippi!

  • "Virginia is for Lovers" only if we approve of it then vote and pass a bill saying it's OK.

  • “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. “

    For sure, decisions by the Supreme Court (less than 6 months from now), future executive action by the president, plus relocating employers fearful of competition for (and potential discrimination lawsuits by) its high-tech, educated workforce will beat, by a long mile, any serious political action for LGBTs likely to come out of Richmond’s GOP wackos.

    Still, public opinion continues to improve all across Virginia, even now, as more LGBT natives come out and new LGBT arrivals create emerging local realities. Aging, out of touch Richmond legislative committee members don’t see those changes, nor do they care to see them.

    Delegate Krupicka’s comment is really spot on. Most Virginians– and most of both parties, I think– take the view that what’s bad for business is bad for Virginia. When discrimination clearly becomes bad for the Commonwealth’s business climate, especially from federal action, I think things will change very rapidly.

    Even just a SCOTUS strike-down this June of DOMA’s Section 3 will have a profound impact on hastening that whole process. Of course a broad SCOTUS decision in favor of Prop 8 Plaintiff’s position in June, basically affirming Judge Walker’s decision, will sweep aside Virginia’s and all other state constitutional marriage equality bans and state DOMAs.

    In that happy event, Virginia businesses, their lawyers and maybe even crustacean legislators will quickly move to prevent discrimination lawsuits in the workplace, too. On the other hand, if SCOTUS votes for more incremental change, then Virginian’s public opinion will continue to improve, but prevailing for LGBTs a good bit later.

    Even at our most pessimistic, it is hard to imagine– given SCOTUS’ past decisions, its current L/R makeup, as well as Chief Justice Roberts’ surprising left turn on health care reform last term– that the combined outcome of both cases will be anything but a net positive impact for LGBT marriage equality and LGBT workplace discrimination protection efforts across the nation.

    LGBT issues aside, Virginia is still looking slightly ‘bluer’. Both of its Democratic U.S. senators are popular. Its new Senator Tim Kane will even likely be a bit more to the left of just-retired Democratic Senator Jim Webb. The bigotry of George Allen’s/ GOP ‘brand’ was decisively rejected by Virginians TWICE in a row– over a six-year time span.

    LGBT population strongholds in Northern Virgina, Richmond and Tidewater continue to grow. Moreover, to the west, aside from its sheer beauty, the Blue Ridge/ US 29 and I-81 corridors– with their strong education bases– have become a noticeable draw for LGBTs migrating to the Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Roanoke/Salem and Blacksburg areas.

    Outside of Richmond’s petty state politics, I think for LGBT Virginians, the Commonwealth is clearly a ‘purpling’ state with a decidedly UP blue trend line going forward.

    • “Aging, out of touch Richmond legislative committee members don’t see those changes, nor do they care to see them.”

      A lot of those who are out of touch are relatively young. The problem for them and the GOP nationally, is that the electorate is no longer dominated by straight white men and their Stepford wives. We saw this with the overwhelming break in the last election of Asian Americans and Latinoa for Obama. The raw demographics and culture would have suggested they are more sympathetic to the Republicans, but the “straight white men only” platform chased both groups away, and in to the Obama camp.

  • As a former constituent of Delegate Surovell’s I just want to commend him for his efforts. Job well done. I think the LGBT community in Virginia has a friend in Scott!

  • It'll come down to the supreme court unfortunately. Why delegates like Bob Marshall keep getting elected is beyond me. But, it's true what Brian said down in the comments below. The state is getting bluer, and warming up to the idea of marriage equality, though our voices seem to fall on deaf ears in the general assembly.

  • Instead of wasting millions suing California to overturn prop 8 (which is still necessary), Boies and Olsen should have sued to overturn the Marshall-Newman amendment. This law bans private contracts as well, a prima facie violation of the contracts clause in the US Constitution. Overturning the amendment on such a slam dunk would force Virginia to revisit the debate.

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