By Senator Adam Ebbin
In February of this year, US District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage equality – also known as the “Marshall-Newman Amendment” – was unconstitutional. The case was appealed and stayed, leaving the fate of marriage equality in flux for eight months. So on October 6, when the US Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth and its neighboring states by declining to review this case, it took a while to sink in.
As the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, I have fought over the last 11 years for LGBT equality. In my first years in the House of Delegates I worked hard against the Marshall-Newman Amendment and watched in sadness as it was passed and added to our state’s constitution. I have introduced and supported legislation to reverse this decision, but each time faced stiff opposition.
The Supreme Court’s decision legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth, but it does not automatically erase the discriminatory Marshall-Newman language that had been added to the Virginia constitution. Right now, our state’s code and constitution both still contain inoperative language that restricts marriage to straight couples and prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of Virginia. We need to strike these provisions from our code and constitution, which is why I have introduced SJ214 and SB682 to accomplish exactly that. The constitution and Code of Virginia must accurately reflect the rule of law, and attorneys and citizens need to have confidence and clarity when reading them.
Today, Virginia has a proud distinction of being one of the best states in the country to raise a family or locate a business. Yet, outright segregation, the poll tax to prevent African-Americans from voting, and “Massive Resistance” to integrated schools are all shameful reminders of a Commonwealth where prejudice and discrimination were rampant. Interracial marriage was a criminal offense, even until 1967.
While marriage equality has arrived in the Commonwealth, it’s also important to remember that our commitment to LGBT equality does not end with marriage. It is still perfectly legal for employers to discriminate against or even fire their employees simply for being LGBT. Hate crimes still occur, and it is hard for many LGBT people to be truly and fully accepted in our society. Governor Terry McAuliffe has been a key ally in our cause, signing an executive order on his first day in office that provides employment protections for public employees, but this can be easily reversed by a future governor. We need to enact these protections into state law so that it won’t be up to the whim of one individual whether to allow or disallow discrimination in employment. I am committed to these causes just as I have been for marriage equality and I am optimistic that our recent trend toward full equality and fairness for all will continue in 2015 and beyond.