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Marriage and more

The momentous events of 2013 hit close to home, as marriage equality arrived in Maryland and Delaware. But last year wasn’t all about marriage. It was a big year for Democrats in Virginia and a lesbian lawmaker announced a bid for Maryland governor.

Here’s a look at the top 10 local news stories of 2013 as chosen by Blade editorial staffers.

 

#1 Marriage equality comes to Md., Del.

 

Clayton Zook, Tracy Staples, Wayne MacKenzie, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Maryland, Tilghman Island

Marriage equality expanded throughout the mid-Atlantic in 2013 with Maryland and Delaware joining D.C. in allowing same-sex couples to wed. Clayton Zook and Wayne MacKenzie tied the knot on New Year’s Day on Tilghman Island. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland and Delaware were among the states in which same-sex couples began to legally marry in 2013.

Seven same-sex couples married at Baltimore City Hall on Jan. 1 shortly after Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect in a ceremony that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiated. They include long-time mayoral aide James Scales and his partner, William Tasker.

“New Year’s Day will have a new meaning for the hundreds — if not thousands — of couples who will finally have the right to marry the person they love,” said Rawlings-Blake.

More than half a dozen same-sex couples exchanged vows at the Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island in Talbot County on Jan. 1. These include innkeepers Tracy Staples and Bob Zuber who tied the knot almost immediately after the law took effect at midnight.

“I’m very proud of Maryland,” Michelle Miller of Stevensville in Queen Anne’s County told the Washington Blade on Jan. 1 after she married Nora Clouse at the Black Walnut Point Inn.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell on May 7 signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law.

State Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) came out as a lesbian on the floor of the state Senate while she and her colleagues debated the measure. The New Castle County Democrat and her partner of more than 20 years, Vikki Bandy, on July 1 became the state’s first legally married same-sex couple when the couple converted their civil union into a marriage during a ceremony that New Castle County Clerk of the Peace Ken Boulden officiated.

“It’s exciting, both historically and personally,” Peterson told reporters after she and Bandy exchanged vows inside the New Castle County Clerk of the Peace’s office in Wilmington. “I never thought in our lifetimes we would be getting married.”

Boulden later on July 1 also officiated Joseph Daigle, II, and Daniel Cote’s wedding in Wilmington that Attorney General Beau Biden, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon and other local and state officials attended.

“Today we are witnesses to a historic event for Delaware and for our community and quite frankly our future,” said Biden.

Delaware Family Policy Council President Nicole Theis and Rev. Leonard Klein of the Diocese of Wilmington are among those who testified against the same-sex marriage bill. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church on July 1 protested the law outside the New Castle County Clerk of the Peace’s office in Wilmington and at other locations throughout the state.

State Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley) is the only Republican lawmaker who co-sponsored the measure. John Fluharty, executive director of the Delaware Republican Party, on March 15 came out during an exclusive interview with the Blade at an Equality Delaware fundraiser in Wilmington.

“I’m here this evening because I support marriage equality,” said Fluharty. “It’s an issue that’s of personal importance for me as a gay man.”

 

#2 McAuliffe elected Va. governor

 

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe is Virginia’s next governor after a campaign that prominently featured gay issues. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe on Nov. 6 defeated Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the commonwealth’s gubernatorial race.

McAuliffe has repeatedly said his first executive order as governor will be to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. The former DNC chair in February also endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) easily defeated Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson in the state’s lieutenant gubernatorial race. The State Board of Elections on Nov. 25 officially certified state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun County) as the winner of the race to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, but state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) requested a recount because he lost to his Democratic rival by only 165 votes.

Cuccinelli highlighted his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples during two debates against McAuliffe that took place in Hot Springs and McLean in July and September respectively. LGBT rights advocates also blasted the outgoing attorney general for appealing a federal appellate court’s March ruling that found Virginia’s sodomy law unconstitutional.

Jackson faced persistent criticism during the campaign over his previous comments that equated gay men to pedophiles and “very sick people.”

“Without exception, the Democratic candidates for statewide office offered unflinching support for marriage equality, a welcoming business climate and respect for a woman’s right to choose,” said gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) after the election. “The people of Virginia aligned themselves with McAuliffe’s and Northam’s vision of an inclusive, forward moving commonwealth.”

 

 

#3 Va. lawmakers confirm gay judge

 

Virginia lawmakers on Jan. 15 confirmed gay Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship.

The Virginia House of Delegates in May 2012 blocked the former prosecutor’s nomination to the Richmond General Court after state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) alleged he misrepresented himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s.

Thorne-Begland in 1992 publicly discussed his sexual orientation during an interview on ABC’s “Nightline.” He unsuccessfully challenged his discharge from the U.S. Navy under the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.

Thorne-Begland is also a former Equality Virginia board member.

“Equality Virginia is pleased that the House of Delegates could see that Thorne-Begland is a qualified candidate with integrity and a long history of public service,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish in a statement after lawmakers approved Thorne-Begland’s judgeship. “Thorne-Begland has served his country and his city with honor and unquestioned competence first as a Navy pilot and then as a prosecutor.”

Thorne-Begland is Virginia’s first openly gay judge.

 

 #4 10 percent of D.C. residents are gay: report

 

gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Gallup says that 10 percent of D.C. residents are gay. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A report released in February by the Gallup polling organization showed that the District of Columbia has the highest percentage of self-identified LGBT residents in the nation in comparison to the 50 states.

Ten percent of 493 D.C. residents who responded to Gallup’s daily tracking polls between June 1 and Dec. 30, 2012 identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to the report. By comparison, 3.3 percent of a sample of 4,195 Maryland residents and 2.9 percent of a sample of 6,323 Virginians identified themselves as LGBT.

The report did not compare D.C. to other cities. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, which studies LGBT related demographics, told the Blade the Gallop statistics appeared to be a more accurate snapshot of the country’s LGBT population than previous studies.

 

#5 Mizeur runs for governor in Md.

 

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Heather Mizeur is seeking to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) on July 16 officially entered the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

“I’m running for governor because I love this state and I see limitless possibilities on what we can accomplish together,” the Montgomery County Democrat told the Washington Blade before she announced her candidacy. “There are great challenges facing us and also incredible opportunities.”

Mizeur last month raised eyebrows when she tapped Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton as her running mate. The Prince George’s County pastor in 2012 emerged as one of the most prominent supporters of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law that voters approved in a referendum.

“I have stood up for justice,” said Coates at a Nov. 14 campaign event during which Mizeur officially introduced him as her running mate. “I stand before you today not driven by professional or personal ambition, but by a calling to bring hope to others when they need it the most.”

Mizeur will face Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler in the state Democratic primary in June. She could become the country’s first openly gay governor if Maryland voters elect her to succeed Martin O’Malley.

“Diversity is enormously important,” Mizeur told the Blade in July. “Not simply to have a gay governor, but to have a governor who can represent the voices of people in communities that have not always had a voice in the process.”

 

#6 Rash of violent incidents in June

 

Miles DeNiro, Manny & Olga's, hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

Drag performer Miles Denaro was beaten and dragged by the hair by two women at the Manny & Olga’s pizzeria in June. (Screen capture)

Four transgender women, a gay man dressed in drag, and a lesbian were victims of separate violent attacks, including a murder, during the last two weeks of June, prompting LGBT activists to call a “community response” meeting to address the incidents.

Lesbian Malika Stover, 35, of Southeast D.C., was shot to death on June 22 following what police said was an argument with a neighbor that did not appear to be linked to her sexual orientation.

But transgender activist Earline Budd, who organized the meeting, said Stover’s slaying stunned people in the LGBT community who knew her.

“This is really putting all of us on edge,” she said. “You’re seeing all of these incidents happening in such a short period of time.”

Police arrested a 23-year-old male suspect for allegedly stabbing transgender woman Bree Wallace, 29, multiple times on June 21 in an abandoned house in Southeast D.C. Police said the incident stemmed from a dispute and did not appear to be a hate crime. In another incident on June 23, gay male drag performer Miles Denaro was beaten and dragged by the hair by two women at the Manny & Olga’s pizzeria near 14th and U streets, N.W. in an incident that was captured on video and posted on the Internet. The two women were arrested and pleaded guilty to a charge simple assault.

 

#7 Trans birth certificate bill hailed  

 

Vincent Gray, JaParker Deoni Jones, David Grosso, Ruby Corado, Rick Rosendall, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill in August enabling trans people to change their birth certificates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill signed into law by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in August that removes obstacles to the process of enabling transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect their new gender has been hailed as a groundbreaking measure.

Among other things, the new law repealed a provision in an existing law that required transgender individuals to undergo gender reassignment surgery as a condition for obtaining a new birth certificate. Transgender advocates said the surgery was too expensive for many people and medically hazardous to others.

The new law is named the JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013 in honor of a transgender woman murdered near her home in 2012.

Another key provision in the law requires the D.C. Registrar to issue a new birth certificate designating a new gender for “any individual who provides a written request and a signed statement from a licensed healthcare provider that the individual has undergone a gender transition.”

 

 

#8 T.H.E. declares bankruptcy

 

Earline Budd, gay news, Washington Blade

Earline Budd called on the city to investigate T.H.E.’s management practices. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Transgender Health Empowerment, D.C.’s leading transgender services and advocacy organization for nearly 10 years, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 7. A short time later it discontinued all of its transgender-related programs.

The bankruptcy filing came after the D.C. Department of Health abruptly cut off its funding for T.H.E. when it learned that the IRS placed liens on the organization for its failure to pay more than $260,000 in employee withholding taxes over a period of at least three years. The bankruptcy filing shows that T.H.E.’s total debt comes to more than $560,000.

During a bankruptcy trustee’s hearing in August, T.H.E. executive director Anthony Hall said the group’s only source of income at the time of the hearing was a city grant calling for the organization to operate a non-LGBT related temporary housing facility for crime victims.

Longtime transgender activist Earline Budd, a former T.H.E. employee and one of its founders, has called on the city to investigate the group’s management practices to determine the cause of its financial problems.

 

 

#9 Mautner merges with Whitman-Walker

 

Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker CEO Don Blanchon said Whitman-Walker had been looking for ways to expand its services to women. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization based in Washington, D.C. since its founding in 1990, became an arm of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health in 2013 in what leaders of both groups called an “historic collaboration.”

In a joint statement released in June, the two organizations said the arrangement would bring the Mautner Project’s programs and staff under the “umbrella” of Whitman-Walker, an LGBT community health care provider founded in 1978.

Leslie Calman, Mautner Project’s executive director at the time the merger was announced, said the joining of the two groups would allow Mautner to “offer more critical services to a greater number of women who need those services throughout the region. It’s a natural fit.”

Whitman-Walker CEO Don Blanchon said Whitman-Walker had been looking for ways to expand its services to women. He said the Mautner Project’s “programs and reach within their community will help us fulfill that mission.”

Calman said that in addition to continuing its services for lesbians with serious illnesses such as cancer, the Mautner programs at Whitman-Walker would also continue various illness prevention programs such as cancer screening, smoking cessation and obesity reduction.

 

 

#10 Carson steps down as Hopkins speaker

 

Ben Carson, Values Voter Summit, Washington Blade, gay news

Ben Carson compared LGBT activism to bestiality and pedophilia. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman).

A rising star in the Republican Party stirred controversy by comparing LGBT activism to bestiality and pedophilia, leading him to give up his role as commencement speaker at John Hopkins University.

The former neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins made the remarks during an appearance on Fox News’ Sean Hannity when expressing his opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

“And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association,) be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are — they don’t get to change the definition” of marriage, Carson said.

Carson’s remarks invoked the ire of students at John Hopkins University, where he was selected to speak as commencement speaker. The organization Media Matters asserted a majority of the graduating class, or around 700 students, called for his ouster. Although sources initially said Carson wouldn’t relinquish his speaking role at commencement, Carson eventually indicated he would acquiesce to students’ desires and step down as speaker.

But Carson went on to other public appearances, including one later in the year at a venue closer in tune with his views. Carson was among the speakers the anti-gay Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, where he articulated his opposition to marriage equality.

“We need to recognize that God created the family structure for a reason and marriage is a sacred institution from God himself, and there is no reason that man needs to change the definition of marriage,” Carson said.

02
Jan
2014

Virginia House subcommittee to consider marriage ban repeal bill

Ken Cucinelli, gay news, Washington Blade

Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Jan. 10 reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage in a non-binding opinion. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade has learned a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Jan. 20 is scheduled to consider a bill that would repeal the commonwealth’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

The House Civil Law Subcommittee is expected to take up the measure — House Bill 939 — that state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) introduced last week.

“This is the first time the House of Delegates will get to actually address Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage in the Code of Virginia in at least the last five years as opposed to the Constitution of Virginia,” Surovell told the Blade on Tuesday. “While marriage rights face an uphill battle in the heavily Republican Virginia House of Delegates, I am encouraged to learn that it will at least hold a hearing on the bill.”

The House Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee last year killed Surovell’s proposed resolution that sought to repeal a 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

State Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, on Jan. 9 announced it will not consider any so-called first reference constitutional amendments during the 2014 legislative session. These include proposed resolutions that sought to repeal the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

State Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) last week introduced a proposed resolution that sought to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage in Virginia. The proposal would have also allowed the commonwealth to recognize gay nuptials legally performed in Maryland, D.C. and other jurisdictions.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Jan. 30 is scheduled to hold a hearing in a federal lawsuit that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. 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 from the Shenandoah Valley who lack marriage rights in the state.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring all support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wrote in a non-binding opinion he sent to state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) on Jan. 10 — one day before the former GOP gubernatorial candidate left office — that a governor “may not direct or require any state government agency to allow same-sex couples to receive joint marital status for state income tax returns.” The Prince William County Republican has introduced a bill that seeks to codify the policy then-Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in November that requires married same-sex couples to file their state income tax returns as single individuals because the commonwealth does not recognize their unions.

It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

15
Jan
2014

Virginia lawmakers seek ability to defend state laws

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday announced he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.(Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Friday approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.

The 13-7 vote in the House Courts of Justice Committee on the measure that state Dels. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) and Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) introduced on Jan. 7 took place a day after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

State Dels. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax County), Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County), Jackson Miller (R-Manassas), G. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond), Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach), Greg Habeeb (R-Salem), Randy Minchew (R-Loudoun County), Rick Morris (R-Isle of Wight County), James Leftwich (R-Chesapeake), A. Benton Chafin (R-Russell County), Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania County) and Gilbert voted for House Bill 706. State Dels. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax County), David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County), Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) and Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) opposed the measure.

State Dels. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott County) and Jeff Campbell (R-Smyth County) did not vote on HB 706 that contains a so-called emergency clause that would allow it to immediately become law if the governor were to sign it.

“A member of the General Assembly has standing to represent the interests of the commonwealth in a proceeding in which the constitutionality, legality or application of a law established under legislative authority is at issue and the governor and attorney general choose not to defend the law,” reads the measure.

Keam told the Washington Blade the committee vote took place without advance notice.

“Everybody knows that this wouldn’t even be an issue if Herring didn’t do what he did yesterday,” said the Fairfax County Democrat.

Keam further noted the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government has “been the same principle” in Virginia for 400 years.

“Why all of a sudden is there such an urgency that [they feel] like he has to change the rule now,” asked Keam. “The fact that they’re ramroding it through with emergency clause the day after the Mark Herring situation happens tells you that they’re driven by ideology.”

Virginia Republicans and social conservatives have blasted Herring for his decision not to defend the marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. They also criticized him for joining a federal lawsuit against it that two same-sex couples from Norfolk and Richmond filed last year.

“Why didn’t he tell everybody when he was running for office what he was doing,” Marshall told Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni during an interview that aired on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU on Friday. “He kept this very cleverly to himself and sprung this like a Pearl Harbor attack on the people of Virginia after he takes an oath to defend the constitution.”

Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, on Thursday said Herring should resign so state lawmakers can appoint a successor who will defend the amendment. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown on Friday reiterated his call for legislators to impeach the attorney general.

“He is duty-bound to defend Virginia’s law,” said Brown in an e-mail to supporters. “Yet here he is, abandoning the people and law of Virginia to pursue his own selfish motives.”

The full House is expected to vote on HB 706 on Jan. 29.

The Virginia Senate, which will likely return to Democratic control following former Loudoun County prosecutor Jennifer Wexton’s victory in the special election to fill the seat that Herring had previously held, will likely kill the measure.

25
Jan
2014

Judge poised to rule on Va. same-sex marriage ban

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Jan. 23 announced he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.(Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

A federal judge appears ready to rule on the constitutionality of Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in the wake of Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement that he will not defend it.

Judge Arenda L. Wright of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Jan. 23 asked the parties in the lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples to file status reports on whether oral arguments that are scheduled to take place on Thursday “remains warranted.” She also told the litigants to tell the court whether it should “instead rule promptly on the briefs without a hearing.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs — Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond — filed their response to Wright’s order on Jan. 24. The judge ordered attorneys representing the defendant — Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer — to respond to Herring’s position that the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage in Virginia as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional by noon on Monday.

“The attorney general’s change in position should not delay this court’s resolution of plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary injunction and summary judgment,” wrote Bostic and London’s lawyers in the status report they submitted to Wright. “If anything, the attorney general’s change in position makes clearer the appropriateness of immediate relief.”

Herring’s decision not to defend the marriage amendment sparked immediate outrage among some Virginia Republicans and social conservatives.

“The attorney general’s decision to refuse to enforce a duly-adopted provision of the Virginia Constitution is frightening,” said state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) on Sunday during the Republican Party of Virginia’s weekly address.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, echoed Gilbert in a statement her organization released after Herring’s Jan. 23 announcement.

State Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) equated the attorney general’s announcement during a Jan. 24 interview with Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni that aired on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU to a “Pearl Harbor attack on the people of Virginia.” Republican Party of Virginia Chair Pat Mullins is among those who have suggested that Herring should resign.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Gilbert and Marshall introduced earlier this month that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. The two Republicans are among the 32 lawmakers who urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the same day to defend the state’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“Attorney General Herring apparently is satisfied that the people of Virginia shall not be represented in court to defend the 2006 voter approved one-man, one-woman marriage amendment,” wrote the legislators in the letter of which the Washington Post obtained a copy.

McAuliffe, who took office slightly more than two weeks ago, supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“There are people who are going to attack me and try to say ‘well it’s about the duty of the attorney general [to defend the marriage ban,]” Herring told the Washington Blade during a Jan. 23 interview. “In fact what they’re really upset about is that they disagree with marriage equality. And that’s their right, but it’s not the law.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the 17 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians in Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and other states have filed lawsuits seeking the ability to tie the knot in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley — including one who tied the knot in D.C. in 2011 — who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth. The first hearing in the case is expected to take place in the coming months.

26
Jan
2014

McAuliffe declines to appoint special counsel to defend Va. marriage ban

Terry McAuliffe, Richmond, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday said he will not appoint a special counsel to defend his state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

McAuliffe told state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) in a letter that he shares the view that “the effective administration of our legal system requires zealous advocacy on all matters before the courts.” The governor said Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Foundation of Virginia are “vigorously and appropriately” defending the state’ same-sex marriage ban after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend it.

Marshall is among the more than 30 legislators who urged McAuliffe in a Jan. 24 letter to defend the marriage amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006.

“Accordingly, I respectfully decline to appoint special counsel in this matter,” wrote McAuliffe.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Thursday will hold a hearing in a lawsuit that two couples — Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond — filed last year against the marriage amendment. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Marshall and state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced earlier this month that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.

The full House is expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday, but the state Senate will likely kill it.

28
Jan
2014

Virginia same-sex marriage lawsuit certified as class action

Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

A federal judge on Friday certified a lawsuit that two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley filed against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban as a class action.

Judge Michael F. Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg ruled any same-sex couple in the commonwealth who is not married or legally exchanged vows in another jurisdiction can join the women’s lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August challenged the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff in Staunton.

Berghoff and Kidd, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising their young daughter, married in D.C. in 2011. Harris and Duff, who have also been together for nearly a decade and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court last July.

“It’s about protecting our family,” said Kidd during a meeting she and other LGBT Virginians attended with state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County)’s staffers in Richmond on Jan. 28 that coincided with Equality Virginia’s annual lobby day. “Right now we are separated from so many protections that are enjoyed by other families and we fundamentally don’t feel that the state should be defining family for us.”

Oral arguments in a second lawsuit that two same-sex couples – Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond – filed against the commonwealth’s marriage amendment last year will take place in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Tuesday.

Urbanski excluded the plaintiffs in the Bostic case from the class action lawsuit.

“We want to be clear that we’re fighting for families across the state,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This marriage ban affects families in a number of different ways by denying them the many protections that come with marriage. It’s important that our case address the many ways that families are hurt by our discriminatory laws.”

Attorney General Mark Herring last week announced he will not defend the marriage amendment that Virginia voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill state Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, is among those who have said Herring should resign if he refuses to defend the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Jan. 27 said he would not appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment after Marshall and 29 other state lawmakers asked him to do so.

Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly, referred the Washington Blade to the attorney general’s previous comments on the state’s same-sex marriage ban when asked about Urbanski’s order.

“This is a key issue that the [U.S.] Supreme Court is going to have to decide,” Herring told the Blade during a Jan. 23 interview. “If the facts were presented to the Supreme Court, they would strike it down. And it’s important that Virginia be on the right side of history and on the right side of the law.”

01
Feb
2014

Bill to grant Va. lawmakers ability to defend state laws advances

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

The Virginia House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.

The 65-32 vote in the Republican-controlled chamber took place three days after lawmakers approved House Bill 706 in a voice vote. The Washington Post reported that state Del. Tom Rust (R-Fairfax County) is among those who opposed the measure.

“A member of the General Assembly has standing to represent the interests of the commonwealth in a proceeding in which the constitutionality, legality or application of a law established under legislative authority is at issue and the governor and attorney general choose not to defend the law,” reads HB 706.

A House committee on Jan. 24 approved HB 706; one day after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Everybody knows that this wouldn’t even be an issue if Herring didn’t do what he did yesterday,” state Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) told the Washington Blade during a Jan. 24 interview.

State Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County), who introduced HB 706, are among the 30 lawmakers who urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a Jan. 24 letter to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment. The governor last week denied the request.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit that two couples – Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mark Townley of Chesterfield – filed last year against the marriage amendment. A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate is expected to kill HB 706.

04
Feb
2014

Plaintiffs in Va. case prepare for day in court

Carol Schall, Mary Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia

Carol Schall (left) with Mary Townley and their daughter Emily. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two same-sex couples who have filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban told the Washington Blade on Monday they simply want the commonwealth to legally recognize their relationships.

“We want to be married,” said Tony London of Norfolk, who has been with his partner, Timothy Bostic, for 25 years. “It’s important to us as Virginians that we get married in the state that we love and this is a state we’ve called home for so long.”

Bostic and London last July filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman after the Norfolk Circuit Court denied their application for a marriage license. Carol Schall and Mary Townley, a Chesterfield couple who has been together for 30 years, joined the case in September.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk will hold oral arguments in the lawsuit on Tuesday. A snowstorm postponed the hearing that had been scheduled to take place on Jan. 30.

“We want to be married for the happy times, but we need to be married for the sad times,” Schall told the Blade. “When one of us is sick or when one of us needs surgery or when health care is an issue, we need to be there for each other. And Virginia should not be in the business of standing in the way of people wanting to care for each other and take responsibility for each other.”

Schall and Townley, who have been together for 30 years, married in California in 2008.

The women’s 16-year-old daughter Emily joined them and Bostic and London at a D.C. press conference last September where the American Foundation of Equal Rights announced Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, had joined their case.

“’You know mom, I think it’s cool what you guys are doing,’” said Schall as she recalled the conversation she and Townley had with their daughter as they drove home from the nation’s capital after the press conference. “’I would be there no matter what.’”

Bostic, who is an assistant English professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, told the Blade his neighbors in the neighborhood in which he and London have lived for 17 years have been “extremely supportive” of them. Schall, who is an assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in Richmond, said her 80-year-old father told her earlier on Monday to “go get em’ kid; don’t let anybody stand in your way.”

“We’re just a family – we go out to Martin’s to shop and Target and all of that,” Townley, who works at Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Richmond, told the Blade as she discussed how her colleagues and others with strong religious beliefs have supported her and Schall’s decision to challenge Virginia’s marriage amendment. “It’s an amazing transformation for them. It’s a really nice feeling for them and for us.”

Virginia voters in 2006 approved the marriage amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

Schall was a canvasser for Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, when state lawmakers were debating whether to put the issue on the ballot.

“As the election results came in, [I was] just feeling really overwhelmingly sad that my friends and neighbors had voted against me,” she said.

Bostic told the Blade he and London also “fought very hard against” the marriage amendment.

“It really did feel like a repudiation by our friends and neighbors,” said Bostic, noting a majority of Norfolk voters did not support the gay nuptials ban. “Why should I have to ask for this right? Why is this fight even here? I’m a citizen.”

Attorney General Mark Herring on Jan. 23 announced he would not defend the marriage ban.

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that state Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Governor Terry McAuliffe last week denied a request from Marshall, Gilbert and 28 other lawmakers to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment.

A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.

“Having the attorney general on our side just greatly amplifies our efforts to bring fairness and full rights to gay and lesbian couples all across the commonwealth,” London, a real estate agent and U.S. Navy veteran, told the Blade. “We have a very strong case and look forward to succeeding and I believe we will.”

Schall said she and Townley “are prepared” to hear attorneys who are representing the defendants in their case – Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg and Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer – discuss their relationship “maybe in not so much complimentary ways.” Their daughter is also expected to attend the oral arguments with a close family friend.

“At the end of the day, we are just so regular and typical,” Schall told the Blade. “People who fuss about this just really don’t understand this is just about being in love.”

Bostic had a similar view.

“Tony is my soul mate,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s anybody out there–gay or straight–that would have a difficult time understanding our desire to marry our soul mates.”

04
Feb
2014

McAuliffe defeats Cuccinelli in Virginia governor’s race

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally with President Obama in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 3, 2013. (Photo by Lee Whitman)

TYSONS CORNER, Va.—Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday defeated Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the commonwealth’s hotly contested gubernatorial race.

With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, McAuliffe narrowly defeated Cuccinelli by a 48-45 percent margin. Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis came in third with nearly seven percent of the vote.

“Over the next four years, most Democrats and Republicans want to make Virginia a model for pragmatic leadership that is friendly to job creation; a model for strong schools that prepare students for jobs of tomorrow; a model for welcoming the best and the brightest scientists and innovators no matter your race, gender, religion or whom you love,” McAuliffe told supporters at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner who included Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine after CNN and other news outlets declared him the winner.

Cuccinelli again stressed during his concession speech that he feels the election was a referendum on the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed in 2010.

“Despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million, this race came down to the wire because of Obamacare,” Cuccinelli told supporters in Richmond. “That message will go out across America tonight.”

McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli by double-digit margins in Alexandria, Fairfax City and Falls Church and Arlington and Fairfax Counties. The former DNC chair beat his Republican opponent in Loudoun County by a 50-45 percent margin.

Sarvis told reporters after he and his wife voted at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria on Tuesday that his campaign was “pleased with the motivation of our supporters.”

“I’m probably the only person who can say I’m very proud of the campaign we ran,” he said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell is among those who congratulated McAuliffe.

“There is no higher honor than serving in the same office once held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Virginia is a commonwealth of tremendous history and opportunity; this is the place where America began. The privilege of serving as governor carries with it immense responsibility. And I know Terry McAuliffe will act in the best interests of the more than eight million people who call Virginia home.”

GOP statewide ticket faced criticism over LGBT rights record

Cuccinelli faced persistent criticism from gay advocates and Democrats over his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues during the campaign. These include his unsuccessful effort to appeal a court ruling earlier this year that found Virginia’s sodomy law unconstitutional.

Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia, Fairfax, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Cuccinelli talks with reporters at Eagle View Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., on Nov. 5, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuccinelli told reporters outside Eagle View Elementary School in Fairfax earlier on Tuesday that taxes, the economy and the Affordable Care Act were the top three issues about which voters had asked him. The GOP gubernatorial candidate also said he received questions about his television ads.

“That’s where peoples’ focus is,” Cuccinelli said. “On a day like this — much like the rest of the campaign — we try to talk to voters about what they care about.”

Advocates were quick to point out after the Republican Party of Virginia nominated E.W. Jackson as their lieutenant gubernatorial candidate that he had previously compared gay men to pedophiles. The Chesapeake minister has also described gays and lesbians as “very sick people.”

State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) easily defeated Jackson by a 55-45 percent margin.

“Marriage equality and equality’s for all people,” Northam told the Washington Blade during a Nov. 1 interview. “It’s just the sensible way to go in my view.”

State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun County) leads state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general by a 541 vote margin.

Republican Party of Virginia Chair Pat Mullins on Tuesday initially congratulated Obenshain for his “win” when the GOP candidate was ahead of Herring by roughly 7,500 votes, but the race remains too close to call.

“Election Day is over and I am honored to have a majority of Virginians cast their ballots for me for attorney general,” Herring said in a statement his campaign released early on Wednesday.

LGBT rights advocates welcome Va. election results

June Crenshaw, Ashley King, gay news, Washington Blade, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, Virginia, Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe

LGBT rights advocates cheered at the Virginia Democratic Party post-election party in Tyson’s Corner on Nov. 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) described McAuliffe and Northam’s wins as a “clear victory for equality” that brings “the promise of a new day for Virginia.”

“Without exception, the Democratic candidates for statewide office offered unflinching support for marriage equality, a welcoming business climate and respect for a woman’s right to choose,” Ebbin said. “The people of Virginia aligned themselves with McAuliffe’s and Northam’s vision of an inclusive, forward moving commonwealth.”

Ashley Smith of the Human Rights Campaign is among those with the organization who canvassed on behalf of McAuliffe in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads area in the final weeks of the campaign. Many of them held signs and wore t-shirts that read “Virginia is for lovers of equality” as they awaited the election results in Tysons Corner.

“It was a great feeling,” Smith told the Blade after McAuliffe and Northam spoke to their supporters. “It’s time to change Virginia.”

Poll worker Dennis McNaughton told the Blade outside Christ Lutheran Church in Fairfax on Tuesday that GOP voters with whom he had spoken saw social issues as important going into the election.

“If you don’t have a moral upbringing and moral standard you’re kind of lost,” he said, referring to marriage rights for same-sex couples and abortion. “All those things, they lead to extinction.”

Catherine Read, a member of Equality Virginia’s Board of Directors who worked outside the same Fairfax polling place as McNaughton on Tuesday, noted to the Blade that Democrats who cast their ballots expressed concern over the Republican candidates’ opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians and their positions on women’s reproductive health.

“There’s a lot of people focused on social issues,” Read said.

Fisette re-elected to Arlington County Board

Gay Arlington County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette on Tuesday easily defeated Green Party challenger Audrey Clement.

Pro-LGBT state Dels. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) easily won re-election. Atif Qarni lost to state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), co-sponsor of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that Virginia voters approved in 2006, by a 48-52 percent margin.

State Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax County) defeated challenger Jerry Foltz.

Robert Sarvis, Libertarian Party, Virginia, Fairfax, gay news, Washington Blade

Libertarian Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis with his wife at a polling station in Alexandria, Va., on Nov. 5, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

06
Nov
2013

BREAKING: Va. House of Delegates confirms gay judge

Law gavel, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo via Wikimedia)

The Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday voted 66-28 to approve gay interim Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship.

“Equality Virginia is pleased that the House of Delegates could see that Thorne-Begland is a qualified candidate with integrity and a long history of public service,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said in a statement. “Thorne-Begland has served his country and his city with honor and unquestioned competence first as a Navy pilot and then as a prosecutor.”

The vote took place after members of the General Assembly Committee of Judicial Appointments on Monday certified Thorne-Begland and more than 40 other judicial nominees.

The House of Delegates last May blocked Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the Richmond General Court after state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) alleged he misrepresented himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s. (He is among the 28 delegates who voted against Thorne-Begland’s election.)

Thorne-Begland, who came out during 1992 “Nightline” interview in which he criticized the Pentagon’s ban on gay servicemembers, received an honorable discharge two years later.

The Richmond General Court in June appointed Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers failed to fill the vacancy, but state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) questioned his previous activism during the General Assembly Committee of Judicial Appointments hearing.

“There was a lot of confusion last year about how your oath and your activism were both present or not present or either or how one tread upon the other—or didn’t,” Gilbert said. “That’s one of the reasons I didn’t vote in your previous election because those questions were not answered for me and I feel like they’ve been satisfactorily answered for me.”

Thorne-Begland responded.

“When I think of an activist, I think of someone—the tree hugger who chains themselves to a tree in the redwood forest, someone who chains themselves to a nuclear facility, wants it shut down or someone who conducts sit-ins in the halls of this legislature or on the steps of the capitol as we saw last year,” he said, as captured by Equality Virginia in a video it posted online. “Those are individuals who are willing to advance their cause through acts of civil disobedience. They will violate the law, violate regulations, perhaps violate their oath. I didn’t take those actions. There were members of the armed forces who spoke up against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ wore their uniform and chained themselves to the White House fence. That is an act of civil disobedience. It’s a violation of order and it’s a violation of your oath as an officer. I understand that people may see what I did as activism, but you can make darn sure that I did not take the steps that I did without reading the regulations, without consulting lawyers and making sure that I was not just following the letter of the law but the spirit of the law to say this policy hurts. It hurts good people and we’re not here to litigate the propriety of the military’s old policy… of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or its repeal, but I want you to understand that that’s why I did what I did. I did it within the framework of the rules that had been laid to me.”

Thorne-Begland, who is also a former Equality Virginia board member, also discussed his involvement with the LGBT advocacy group.

“Since I left the military, I’ve worked with Equality Virginia and I advocated for such radical things as expanding the right to health care for someone to be able to get insurance for their partner,” he said. “I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t one day want the opportunity to marry my partner. We married 15 years ago in an Episcopal church across the street from our house. I’d like that to happen, but that’s not my role as a judge. I will well and dutifully follow the rules, the laws and the regulations. I know that when I put on a black robe and even when I take that robe off and go home that I am held to a different standard of an everyday citizen.”

Parrish stressed the House of Delegates’ initial vote against Thorne-Begland’s nomination “made embarrassing national headlines.”

“We’re glad the House of Delegates took a second look at his candidacy and this time the decision was based on his qualifications and not on who he is or who he loves,” he said. “While Thorne-Begland has been given another opportunity, without employment protections, most Virginians do not get a second chance at their jobs after being fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation.”

15
Jan
2013