April 8, 2013 at 12:31 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
McAuliffe, Warner attend Equality Virginia dinner

Terry McAuliffe, Christopher Schaffer, Levar Stoney, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Terry McAuliffe (center) at an Equality Virginia fundraiser in Arlington, Va. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Saturday reaffirmed his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples during Equality Virginia’s annual dinner that took place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

“It was two months ago that I came out for marriage equality,” he said, referring to the February Google chat during which he publicly announced his position. “I came out early because I thought it was the right thing to do.”

McAuliffe, who is the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said the first thing he would do as governor is sign an executive order that would ban discrimination “based on any issue.” He also sought to differentiate himself from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who last week asked the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond to review a three-judge panel’s decision in March that struck down Virginia’s sodomy law.

“I will make sure that every single individual in the commonwealth of Virginia is treated fair and equal,” McAuliffe said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.,) who publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples last month before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases that challenge the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, said he was “proud to lend my voice on that important issue.” He credited his three daughters with helping him come to support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“Any committed couple ought to have protection under the law,” Warner, who in 2005 became the first Virginia governor to sign an executive order that banned anti-gay discrimination against state employees, said. “No one ought to have their relationship viewed as second class.”

Equality Virginia honored U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va;) Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia Interim CEO Viola Baskerville; LGBT advocates Ted Heck, Guy Kinman and Gregg Smith; publishers of the Our Own newspaper that published in Norfolk from 1976-1998 and University of Virginia psychology professor Charlotte J. Patterson. The group also acknowledged Roanoke auto body shop owner Richard Henegar, Jr., who last summer coordinated efforts to repair Radford University student Jordan Addison’s vandalized car that had “die fag” scratched into the door.

Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott; state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico;) state Dels. Jim Scott (D-Merrifield,) Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond,) David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria;) attorney general candidates Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax; lieutenant gubernatorial hopeful Aneesh Chopra; Richmond City Councilmembers Cynthia Newbille and Jonathan Baliles and Alexandria City Councilman Paul Smedberg are among the nearly 1,000 people who attended the dinner.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland, who in January became the commonwealth’s first openly gay jurist after the Republican-controlled House of Delegates initially rejected his nomination last May, also attended.

Parrish: We have reason to celebrate

The dinner took place less than two months after a House of Delegates subcommittee tabled a bill that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“Sometimes Virginia is not always known for its steps forward,” Warner said. “We’ve seen actions in the General Assembly over the last couple of years that at times have not made Virginia the kind of leading light, but instead the butt of Jon Stewart jokes.”

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee in January killed a measure introduced by state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) that would have repealed the 2006 Marshall-Newman Amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the commonwealth’s constitution.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and others noted throughout the dinner, however, a majority of Americans now support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“Tonight we have reason to celebrate,” he said. “LGBT Americans are more visible than ever before. Virginia is ripe for change.”

Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker also referenced his own evolution on same-sex marriage during his keynote address.

“This is the United States of America,” he said. “It’s not United Airlines where some of you can sit in first class and some people are back in coach. You can’t have two types of citizenship in this country.”

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

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