Legislators for Equality: Delegate Krupicka
By Delegate Rob Krupicka Over the past few years, more states have embraced marriage equality for consenting adults. Virginians similarly have moved toward supporting the right of individuals, not the state, to decide whether love should lead them to marry. Now, Virginia’s own law defining marriage as between one man and one woman has been struck down as contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Some may say that is enough. I don’t think so. In the upcoming legislative session, many are pushing to remove the terrible Marshall-Newman language from the constitution. While I support the goals of that effort, I think we should take this opportunity to think more broadly about freedom and what our constitution says about marriage. That is why I have submitted HJ 492, a constitutional amendment that, instead of just removing Marshall-Newman, would replace it with language protecting marriage freedom for consenting adults. Virginia has a long history of using marriage law as a way to suppress and control adults for a range of reasons, whether due to race, faith, medical conditions, or sexuality. The best known restriction in Virginia’s history was Virginia’s ban on intermarriage between races, first enacted in 1691. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1967. If you have never read the Racial Integrity Act text, it’s horrific. 1967 was in the lifetime of many members of the General Assembly -- a jarring reminder of Virginia’s reluctance to accept the civil liberties of minority groups. Our recent past includes other examples of substantial restrictions on marriage that we now know were wrong. A 1918 law, most of which survived until the 1970s, provided no couple could marry if the woman was younger than 45 and either she or her husband was “a habitual criminal, idiot, imbecile, hereditary epileptic or insane person.” The same law provided no person could marry if “afflicted at the time with any contagious venereal disease.” These restrictions on marriage were tools of Virginia’s intertwined eugenics and racial purity movements that led to the forced sterilization of thousands of Virginians held in state hospitals. They were used by the state to interfere extensively in the lives of thousands of other Virginians as well. The state re-issued marriage and birth certificates for thousands of members of Virginia’s Indian tribes and reclassified them as “colored” on the basis of folklore and examinations of facial and other physical features that the state determined appeared more African American than Indian – a history which has greatly complicated federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes. Through local clerks of court, local prosecutors, and what is now the state’s Office of Vital Statistics, the state campaigned to reclassify “near whites” as “colored” on their state marriage and birth records and to jail persons of different races who married. I don’t know what new methods legislators will come up with to use marriage law to restrict the freedoms of consenting adults, but our unfortunate history tells us that gays and lesbians will not be the last group denied recognition of their families. It is time for Virginia to move into the 21st century. It is time for us to update our constitution to make clear that as a state we reject any more efforts to use marriage law as a way to control or marginalize our citizens.