Why has Virginia’s House of Delegates chosen to deny a proposed amendment that could bring an end to discrimination against same-sex marriages?
Despite growing support for same-sex marriages, Virginia’s House of Delegates recently put a stop to an amendment that could have abolished the state’s constitutional ban on it. This vote was both bipartisan and hopeful; however, LGBTQ safeguards were removed from the proposal, and its progress was eventually denied.
Virginia has allowed same-sex marriages for years, yet the marriage equality ban approved in 2006 by Virginia voters remains in the text. Moreover, last year, the conservative trend of the US Supreme Court overturned constitutional abortion rights. This has caused some concern that the equality of marriage may not be as firmly established as it once was.
A representative from the Family Foundation—a socially conservative group based in Virginia—highlighted the possibility that the Supreme Court could reverse its 2015 ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, which had legalized same-sex marriage nationally: “If and when it does, Virginia’s constitution should continue to reflect the truth about marriage,” said Family Foundation lobbyist Todd Gathje.
The anxiety this situation brought was palpable; questions arose surrounding what would become of married couples and what rights LGBTQ+ people already have built up so far. As such, Adam Ebbin - one of the Virginia General Assembly’s first openly gay members - introduced a constitutional amendment to repeal the same-sex marriage ban from Virginia’s constitution.
Last year, the Virginia Senate approved an amendment to repeal the ban by 25 votes to 14, with four Republicans joining Democrats in supporting it. This complete version of the amendment was not only repealing the constitutional language limiting marriage to one man and one woman; but it was enshrining marriage as a “fundamental right” and declaring government officials must “treat all marriages equally.”
However, some Republican legislators warned of unintended consequences, and that allowed for only a simplified version of the repeal law to be adopted in its place, not making marriage a “fundamental right.”
This year, the proposed law was sent to a House subcommittee for review. Before the hearing began, those who were for it and those who were against it had the chance to voice their opinions.
The Catholic Conference of Virginia has urged citizens to vote to preserve the original concept of marriage. “If you believe, as we do, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that we should preserve this original design, please vote to continue reflecting that in our state constitution,” said Catholic Conference Executive Director Jeff Caruso.
In contrast, Senator Adam Ebbin voiced his opinion before the subcommittee in favor of greater “fundamental dignity and equality.”
Unfortunately, the subcommittee of the House of Representatives blocked the amendment to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage by a 4-1 vote, despite the Republican majority in the House. Republicans who opposed the measure included Speaker Todd Gilbert, Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, and House Commerce and Energy Chairwoman Kathy Byron. This decision also means that LGBTQ+ citizens were denied the right to express their opinion on same-sex marriage on the 2024 ballot.
Also, note that recognizing an opportunity to make a difference, Del. Tim Anderson, a Republican from Virginia Beach, introduced another amendment to support same-sex marriage in line with conservative principles, hoping that it would have more chances of passing the committee and getting to a full floor vote. Encouragingly, six Democrats and one Republican co-sponsored the measure. However, despite these hopes for reform, the amendment never got docketed for a committee hearing.
The Democratic Party of Virginia has spoken out regarding the vote taken by House Republicans. It conveyed that it signals a willingness for conservative lawmakers to take action in removing liberties promoted by the LGBTQ+ movement. Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, expressed his concern that extremist groups such as the Family Foundation, the GOP, and their supporters may attempt to use this opportunity to deny individuals their fundamental freedoms and roll back progress made by the LGBTQ+ community, which is so essential for civil rights advancement in Virginia.
“We already know that folks like the Family Foundation and other extreme elements of the party are salivating at the opportunity to start taking these freedoms away,” he said after the vote.
This decision has also resulted in heavy criticism from LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Virginia and citizens alike, who feel their right to express personal beliefs about same-sex marriage is being denied. To ensure that anti-LGBTQ+ measures are stopped, Equality Virginia has declared they will remember this at the ballot box come fall.
“There has been a common theme from the anti-equality leadership in the House of Delegates this session: pass anti-LGBTQ+ bills, kill any proactive protections for our community, and do all of this without consulting LGBTQ+ Virginians or taking us seriously as people and constituents,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman. “Rest assured Equality Virginia will remember this in the fall when we head to the ballot box.”
Despite an overwhelming number of supporters and the Senate voting in favor of a complete amendment that would have legally abolished the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, a subcommittee of Virginia’s House of Delegates recently chose to deny it.
The decision is unfortunately unsurprising given the current political trend in America favoring conservative policies such as overturning constitutional abortion rights last year; however, it should also be noted that there is still hope for progress despite this disappointment. Senator Adam Ebbin was able to get a bipartisan vote on legislation that repealed the same-sex marriage ban in Virginia. Going forward, advocates will continue their fight for fundamental dignity and equality for all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.