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Virginia lawmakers seek to repeal same-sex marriage ban

Bill would prompt 2016 referendum on state constitutional amendment

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Adam Ebbin, Alexandria, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Adam Ebbin, Alexandria, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Virginia lawmakers on Monday introduced bills that seek to repeal a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and state Del. Joseph Morrissey (D-Henrico) introduced identical bills in their respective legislative chambers.

Virginia voters in 2006 approved the so-called Marshall-Newman Amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

A referendum on whether to repeal the amendment would take place in November 2016 only if members of the General Assembly approve Ebbin and Morrissey’s bills during the 2014 and 2016 legislative sessions. A Virginia House of Delegate subcommittee in January killed a proposal that state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced seeking to repeal the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban.

Surovell is expected to co-sponsor Morrissey’s measure.

“Change is coming across the country and eventually we’ll have marriage equality in Virginia,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “The road to marriage equality in Virginia might not be a short one, but we’ve got to make sure we’re on our way.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the 16 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe earlier this year publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians.

He said during a September gubernatorial debate against Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that he would sign a gay nuptials measure if one were to reach his desk, even though it remains highly unlikely the GOP-controlled General Assembly would approve such a bill.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and issued a ruling striking down California’s Proposition 8. Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond joined the case in September as attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, took up the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester joined the case because Virginia refuses to recognize their D.C. marriage.

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg on Oct. 29 heard arguments on whether the ACLU and Lambda Legal case should become a class action lawsuit. He also considered motions to dismiss Gov. Bob McDonnell and Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas E. Roberts as defendants.

A poll that Greenberg Quinlan Research and Target Point Consulting conducted on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign in late June found 55 percent of Virginians back marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Ebbin told the Blade that marriage rights for same-sex couples in Virginia needs to be discussed “in every venue.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court has set the country on a path towards equality and we just can’t stand by,” he said. “I have a responsibility as a legislator to do all I can to move this forward.”

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jason Haley

    November 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    How the heck can I respect the state of Virginia if they delay such an issue as of Gay Marriage till 2016????????????????

  2. Jobs Come First

    November 20, 2013 at 7:49 am

    More marriage derangement syndrome.

    How about doing something for people – coupled and otherwise – whose first priority is employment and/or housing? You know, something that won’t yield a 2016 ballot measure that could spur just enough of the populace in the Falwell-addled areas of the state to turn out to possibly tip the state back toward the Republicans – and the Christie-Cruz ticket in the presidential election? (Sorry Virginia, but Terry McAuliffe doesn’t make you Maryland, Maine, Minnesota or Washington.)

  3. Ken

    November 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Under the US constitution, states do not have the authority to pass laws that diminish the rights of a class of its citizens nor to diminish the rights of citizens of the United States. That wording, which comes from the 14th amendment, can only mean that no state can give its citizens fewer rights than the citizens of other states. States do not have the authority to regulate civil rights. Because they passed that amendment, the states themselves decided that civil rights is not a states’ rights issue.

    If a married US citizens move from Maryland to Virginia, Virginia diminishes their rights by causing their marriage to evaporate as they cross the border. Virginia is thus in flagrant violation of the US constitution and its state constitutional amendment banning marriage is illegal.

    The same guys who prevailed in the Prop 8 case are suing Virginia. All Virginians will have the right to marry long before 2016.

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17th Street High Heel Race draws large crowd

D.C. Mayor, three Council members, police chief mingle with drag queens

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34th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Close to 1,000 spectators turned out Tuesday night to watch D.C.’s 34th Annual 17th Street High Heel Race in which several dozen men dressed in drag and wearing colorful high heel shoes raced along a three-block stretch of 17th Street near Dupont Circle.

As she has in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office organizes the annual event, gave the official signal for the runners to start the race from a stage at the intersection of 17th and R streets, N.W. 

Joining the mayor on the stage was Japer Bowles, who Bowser recently named as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which plays the lead role in organizing the High Heel Race. 

Also appearing on stage after being introduced by Bowser were D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

Bowser, who along with the three Council members delivered brief remarks before the start of the race, said the event highlights the city’s diversity and resilience coming after over a year of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we want the world to know – that even in a pandemic, even when we had to trim the budget, we stayed focused on how we can make life better for our LGBTQ community,” Bowser told the crowd. “And we’re going to keep on doing it,” she said. “We’re investing in making sure everybody in our community is accepted and safe.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, who walked along the three-block section of 17th Street before the race began, was greeted warmly by bystanders, some of whom called out his name to welcome him to what has become the city’s largest Halloween celebration.

“This is a great event,” Contee told the Washington Blade. “I enjoy coming out to be among D.C. residents and all who find our D.C. culture,” he said. “It’s just a great evening, so we’re happy to be out here supporting our community.”

Members of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit were among the police contingent on duty at the event and overseeing the closing of the streets surrounding 17th Street.

Like past years, many of the race participants and dozens of others dressed in Halloween costumes paraded up and down 17th Street beginning at 6:30 p.m., more than two hours before the start of the race, which was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.  

However, the mayor this year gave the signal to start the race at about 8:35 p.m. Although a large number of drag runners participated in the race, some who planned to join the race didn’t make it to the starting line in time because they expected the race to begin at 9 p.m. as advertised, according to people in the crowd who knew those who missed the race.

To ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate, Bowles and others from the mayor’s office agreed to hold a second race about a half hour after the first one. The number of participants in the second race appeared to be about the same as those who joined the first race, indicating many of the drag participants ran twice.

“This is a special treat,” said one bystander. “We got to see two races instead of one.” 

The High Heel Race was cancelled last year due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic. Many in the crowd watching the race on Tuesday night said they were delighted the city decided to go ahead with the event this year at a time when other large events continue to be canceled or postponed.

Also similar to past years when the High Heel Race took place, the restaurants and bars that line 17th Street were filled on Tuesday night, including the gay bars JR.’s and Windows as well as the longtime LGBTQ-friendly Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse.

Prior to the mayor’s arrival, gay local radio and TV personality Jimmy Alexander of DCW 50 TV served as host to a drag show and costume contest on the stage. DCW 50 also set up and hosted a separate stage on the sidewalk next to JR.’s bar in which race participants and others dressed in costumes were invited to have their pictures taken and provided with copies of the photos of themselves.

“I think it’s amazing,” Bowser told the Blade after the completion of the first race. “It’s good to be back. It was tough missing a year of activities,” she said referring to the business shutdowns brought about by the pandemic. “We had a lot of great, beautiful racers. And so, I’m really excited about it.”

To see more photos from this event, click here.

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker

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Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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