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‘It’s a new day’ in Virginia politics

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe takes office three days after the 2014 legislative session begins. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination and repeal a state constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage are among the priorities for Virginia LGBT rights advocates during the 2014 legislative session that begins on Wednesday.

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) has once again introduced a bill that would ban discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The state Senate last January approved the measure by a 24-16 vote margin, but a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee subsequently killed it. Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has repeatedly said the first executive order he will issue once he takes office on Saturday is a ban on anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.

“We definitely want to continue that momentum,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish.

McEachin, state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) and state Dels. Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico County), Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County), Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), Ken Plum (D-Fairfax County) and Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) have sponsored proposed resolutions that would seek a repeal of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. Howell and state Del. Joseph Yost (D-Giles County) are expected to introduce bills in their respective chambers that would extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Parrish told the Blade that more than 50 families have already said they want to testify in support of the measure.

“We expect that to be a big bill in the House and in the Senate,” he said.

State Del.-elect Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) has pre-filed a bill that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the commonwealth. State Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced an identical measure.

Simon has also proposed a measure that seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) next week is expected to introduce a bill that would ban so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in the commonwealth.

The Alliance for Progressive Values has worked with the Arlington County Democrat to write the bill that Ebbin is expected to introduce in the Senate.

Hope told the Blade on Tuesday similar bills that California Gov. Jerry Brown and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law last year “certainly inspired me that this is the right time to bring this to Virginia.”

Parrish said Equality Virginia would support the proposal, but Hope conceded it will likely face resistance.

“This is an uphill battle,” he said. “This is Virginia that we’re talking about, so I expect some stiff opposition and some hurdles.”

Christopher Doyle, director of the Maryland-based International Healing Foundation, singled out the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that oppose “ex-gay” therapy for encouraging Hope and other state lawmakers to introduce measures that seek to ban the controversial practice.

“No one has ever tried to ban a specific therapeutic modality for any mental health issues,” Doyle told the Blade. “The foundations of the bill are incorrect and politicians are being misinformed and deceived.”

Krupicka and state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Fairfax County) have introduced bills that would allow the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue license plates to Equality Virginia supporters that contain the slogan “Equality for All.”

Parrish said his group will also oppose a measure state Del. Bob Marshall (D-Prince William County) introduced that would require married same-sex couples to file their Virginia income tax returns as single individuals because the commonwealth does not recognize their unions. This measure seeks to codify the policy outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in November.

“We have been reaching out to the new administration though about what we can possibly do about that very punitive tax opinion that came out of the [outgoing Gov. Bob] McDonnell administration,” said Parrish.

The 2014 legislative session will begin three days before McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring take office.

All three men publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s gay marriage ban in two federal lawsuits that challenge it.

“It’s a new day,” Ebbin told the Blade as he discussed McAuliffe, Northam and Herring. “We’ll be dealing with people who are looking to help us instead of looking to harm and stymie us.”

Parrish said the tone from the governor and the attorney general’s offices will be “a 180” compared to McDonnell and outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He added the House will continue to remain a barrier to advancing LGBT-specific legislation during this legislative session.

“Now that we have a friendly administration in the governor and the attorney general’s office, it will allow us to better make the narrative that the Senate and the governor and the attorney general and the Virginia public are all on the same page,” said Parrish. “And it’s the House of Delegates that’s blocked any forward movement for the LGBT community.”

08
Jan
2014

Bipartisanship a lost cause in today’s politics

Joint Session of Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Barack Obama, bipartisanship

So many seats in the House have been gerrymandered to ensure one or the other party will win them that there is less need to compromise. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Wikipedia says “Bipartisanship is a political situation, usually in the context of a two-party system, in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise.” There are many politicians that speak of trying to be bipartisan and to govern in that way. But two distinct visions of what that really means came to the forefront last week with the inauguration of Terry McAuliffe as governor of Virginia and Gov. Chris Christie’s troubles in New Jersey. They have both spoken about working across the aisle to solve problems, but it seems what they actually do is quite different.

Democrat McAuliffe ran a campaign on the promise that he would try to work across party lines to find common ground with the Republican members of the legislature. He touted his past efforts with former Gov. Bob McDonnell on a transportation bill and how he worked behind the scenes to get that passed.

During his campaign and at his inauguration he spoke passionately about his own beliefs and was clear in saying that working across party lines would in no way cause him to abandon his principles. He is a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose and to have control over her own healthcare decisions; and of civil and human rights for the LGBT community. Those principles will clearly put him at odds with many members of the legislature. But he has stated many times that these differences won’t preclude him from working with those who have different ideologies to accomplish needed reforms on a host of other issues. He believes that if people respect their differences they can work together. His cabinet appointments have been inclusive of both parties and diverse in whom is represented. There can be many attacks on McAuliffe for different things but he has a history or working with people of different political persuasions and beliefs. McAuliffe is the type of politician who doesn’t hold grudges and is a businessman who understands the need for accommodation.

Then there is New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie. He also speaks of working across the aisle in a bipartisan way and stood tall with President Obama when trying to get all the federal aid he could for New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. But clearly Christie’s brand of politics is much more confrontational than that of McAuliffe. Christie is an in-your-face politician who believes that waving his finger in the face of, and demeaning constituents who disagree with him, is acceptable behavior. He believes fighting with a former Democratic governor and then taking retribution by taking away his security detail when he doesn’t get what he wants is a way to work across party lines in a bipartisan way. To Christie’s credit it does appear that earning his ire and retribution is occasionally a non-partisan event.

The entire George Washington Bridge traffic fiasco, which some are calling “Bridgegate,” appears to follow a pattern of bullying to get his way and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has suggested that rather than it being a grudge against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee it was retribution against a Democratic legislator who was trying to hold up his judicial nominations. That idea actually makes more sense but it also shows how Christie works against his own statements of wanting to work across the aisle and move toward governing in a bipartisan way.

True bipartisanship requires some respect for your opposition. It requires that you are willing to disagree but to do it agreeably. It requires the kind of relationship that President Ronald Reagan had with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. They didn’t always solve the issues but they had the ability to debate an issue, look for possible compromise and then move on respectfully to the next issue.

Bipartisanship seems to be a lost cause in today’s political climate especially at the federal level. There is a bigger reason for it to work on the state level as state governments need to balance their budgets while the federal government doesn’t. Another reason may be that today so many seats in the House of Representatives have been gerrymandered to ensure one or the other party will win them that there is less need to compromise.

That is a sad state of affairs for the nation.

15
Jan
2014

Anti-gay group joins Va. marriage case

An anti-gay group is representing a defendant in a case that challenges Virginia's same-sex marriage amendment (photo via wikimedia).

An anti-gay group is representing a defendant in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage amendment (photo via wikimedia).

An anti-gay group is representing one of the two defendants in a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Court documents indicate the Alliance Defending Freedom on Monday filed a status report with Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Monday on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg. Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer has tapped lawyers with former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Virginia Beach law firm to represent him in the case.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs — Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond — filed their own status report with Allen after she questioned whether a hearing in the case that is scheduled to take place on Thursday “remains warranted” following Attorney General Mark Herring announcement he will not defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Virginia’s definition of marriage does not codify impermissible sex or sexual orientation discrimination,” wrote Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers in the status report it filed with Allen. “As to the claim of sex discrimination, Virginia’s marriage laws treat men and women identically. No man or woman is permitted to marry a person of the same sex, so there is no ‘differential treatment for denial of opportunity for which relief is sought.’”

The Alliance Defending Freedom also dismissed attempts to compare this lawsuit to the case that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 to strike down interracial marriage bans in the landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling.

“While race is irrelevant to the state’s interest in marriage, the sex of the two individuals marrying is central,” wrote the group.

Allen dismissed the Alliance Defending Freedom’s request to delay the hearing that will take place as scheduled on Thursday. The judge’s order also indicates the Family Foundation of Virginia has also filed an amicus brief in the case.

“We expect the ADF to use the same tired arguments that we’ve seen lose repeatedly in courts across the country,” Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing Bostic and London and Schall and Townley, told the Washington Blade.

The Alliance Defending Freedom did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

Herring continues to face criticism for not defending marriage amendment

Virginia Republicans and social conservatives continue to blast Herring for not defending the marriage amendment that voters approved in 2006.

“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.

Republican Party of Virginia Chair Pat Mullins last week suggested Herring should resign if he won’t defend the gay nuptials ban. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown said state lawmakers should impeach the attorney general.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. More than 30 legislators on the same day urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe to defend the state’s marriage amendment.

“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 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.”

Alliance Defending Freedom staffers in 2013 testified against measures that sought to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Delaware and Rhode Island — gays and lesbians in the two states began to exchange vows last summer. The Arizona-based organization also filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

The justices last June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional and struck down Prop 8.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has also represented a New Mexico photographer and two Vermont innkeepers who faced lawsuits from gays and lesbians who said the refused to do business with them.

The Southern Poverty Law Center last July criticized the Alliance Defending Freedom and other U.S. groups for supporting the campaign to defend Belize’s anti-sodomy law.

27
Jan
2014

Creigh Deeds in critical condition after stabbing

Virginia Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) remains in critical condition at a Charlottesville hospital after his son stabbed him on Tuesday. (Photo by Waldo Jaquith/Wikimedia Commons)

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds remains in critical condition at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville after his son stabbed him at his Bath County home early on Tuesday.

Authorities said Austin “Gus” Deeds stabbed his father at his Millboro home shortly before 7:30 a.m. They said the younger Deeds fatally shot himself after the attack.

Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, told reporters during a Charlottesville press conference that Deeds has been able to speak with authorities.

“The investigation obviously remains ongoing,” Geller said.

Deeds, who has represented the 25th Senate District in Richmond since 2001, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2009. Outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell defeated him by a 59-41 percent margin.

The Bath County Democrat in January voted for a bill that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees. Deeds the same month supported gay Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship the state Senate approved.

He backed a measure during the 2013 Legislative session that would have strengthened anti-bullying measures in the commonwealth. Deeds also opposed a bill that McDonnell signed into law in March that banned Virginia’s public colleges and universities from discriminating against any student group based on their religious and political beliefs.

Deeds received a 100 percent score on Equality Virginia’s 2012 legislative scorecard.

“In this tough and sad time, our thoughts and prayers are with the Deeds family,” McDonnell said in a statement. “The news from this morning is utterly heartbreaking.”

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, who lost to Deeds in the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary, said both he and his wife “are praying for the Deeds family at this difficult time.”

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) told the Washington Blade he is “shocked” by the incident.

“Creigh is one of the nicest, most pleasant people in Richmond,” Ebbin said. “It’s just unimaginable that this has happened to him. It’s just like a bad dream. I can’t believe it.”

The Blade will have more information and reaction as it becomes available.

19
Nov
2013

Bob McDonnell removed from Virginia marriage lawsuit

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A federal judge on Monday removed outgoing Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell as a defendant in a lawsuit that challenges the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski ruled the plaintiffs cannot sue the governor because he is not specifically responsible for enforcing the commonwealth’s marriage laws. Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas E. Roberts and Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records, will remain defendants.

“We’re grateful that we have the chance to move ahead to challenge this discriminatory ban on behalf of loving and committed Virginia couples,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal in August filed a lawsuit 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 more than nine years and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29.

“We are your everyday family, in every sense of the word,” Kidd told the Washington Blade during an August interview.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk in July filed a separate federal lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban after they unsuccessfully tried to apply for a marriage license.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights in September announced Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, had joined the Bostic case. Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe publicly backs marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and state Del. Joseph Morrissey (D-Henrico) last month introduced bills in their respective legislative chambers that seek to repeal the state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage in Virginia.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. where marriage rights have been extended to same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians in Utah began to exchange vows on Dec. 20 after a federal judge ruled the Beehive State’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Illinois’ gay nuptials law takes effect in June, although a federal judge in Chicago on Dec. 16 said same-sex couples with one partner who is terminally ill could immediately tie the knot.

“We will continue to fight for families in Virginia and all across the country,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “All loving families deserve protection and dignity that come with marriage.”

24
Dec
2013

Democrats, gay advocates blast Virginia GOP ticket

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli hoped to challenge a ruling that overturned the state’s sodomy law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Democrats and LGBT rights advocates have criticized the state’s Republican Party for nominating three anti-gay men as their statewide candidates.

The Republican Party of Virginia on Saturday officially nominated Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as its gubernatorial candidate to face off against Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe. E.W. Jackson and state Sen. Mark Obenshein (R-Harrisonburg) will round out the ticket as the party’s lieutenant gubernatorial and attorney general candidates.

Cuccinelli, who has previously described same-sex sexual acts as “intrinsically wrong,” in March filed an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to a three-judge panel’s ruling that overturned the commonwealth’s sodomy law.

The current attorney general in 2010 recommended Virginia colleges and universities remove LGBT-specific provisions from their non-discrimination policies. Cuccinelli was also among those who spoke at an anti-gay marriage gathering at a Manassas church in October to which the Washington Blade was denied access.

Jackson, who founded Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage during a speech at the Republican Party of Virginia convention after delegates officially nominated him. Equality Virginia noted he has compared gay men to pedophiles and described them as “very sick people, psychologically, mentally and emotionally.”

Equality Virginia also pointed out Obenshein sponsored Senate Bill 1074 that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law in March that bans public universities from denying recognition and funding to student organizations that discriminate in their membership based on sexual orientation and other categories that federal law does not protect. He also opposed a measure in a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee tabled in February that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain are openly hostile to LGBT families in communities across the commonwealth,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said after the state GOP officially nominated the three men.

Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Aneesh Chopra also criticized the Virginia GOP ticket.

“The nomination of E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain shows just how out of touch the Republican Party of Virginia has become,” he told the Blade on Tuesday. “Together with Ken Cuccinelli, they represent a vision of Virginia moving backward and reflect one of the most extreme tickets the commonwealth has seen in a long time.”

State Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria,) who chairs the Democratic Party of Virginia, described the GOP candidates’ rhetoric during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday as “divisive, dangerous and mean-spirited.” She, Parrish and gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) stressed their positions could further damage the state’s reputation if voters elect them in November.

“Cuccinelli’s mean-spirited statements do not represent the commonwealth,” Ebbin said. “The truth is Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson’s cruel comments don’t just represent the biases of the past, but represent a threat to Virginia as a welcoming place to do business.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted between May 8-13 found 43 percent of respondents support McAuliffe, compared to 38 percent who back Cuccinelli for governor. A survey the Washington Post released earlier this month shows Cuccinelli led McAuliffe by a 46-41 percent margin.

The same poll noted 70 percent of respondents said they know little or nothing about McAuliffe. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they know little or nothing about Cuccinelli.

A Cuccinelli campaign spokesperson did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment.

Herring, Ebbin and Parrish said during Tuesday’s conference call they remain optimistic voters will have learned about the Republican ticket’s anti-gay rhetoric by the time they cast their ballots on Election Day.

“It is our job to let people know about the record of Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson,” said Herring, noting the state’s Democratic Party earlier this year launched a field program to reach out to potential voters. “It’s a dangerous record and is not good for Virginia families.”

Ebbin reaffirmed his support for McAuliffe.

22
May
2013

Va. lesbian couples file lawsuit seeking marriage rights

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)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are challenging Virginia’s gay nuptials ban and the commonwealth’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising an 8-month-old daughter, married in D.C. in August 2011.

“I’m an Air Force veteran, and if Virginia would just respect our marriage from D.C., it would ensure that my spouse and family could access all the benefits I’ve earned,” Berghoff, who works for the U.S. Justice Department. “I’ve been with Victoria for almost a decade now; and it hurts to have our home state say we are not married when it recognizes marriages entered into by different-sex couples who may have only recently met.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit against the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 slightly more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

A gay couple from Norfolk last month filed a separate federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can marry. The federal government also recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians who legally tied the knot, although their ability to receive Social Security and other federal benefits depends upon whether the state in which they live will recognize their unions.

“It seems contrary to the rights and liberties guaranteed to us by our Constitution, that a trip across the Potomac River, an arbitrary geographical line would somehow grant or deny any citizen equal treatment under the law,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on July 18 noted 50 percent of Virginians support same-sex marriage. A survey that Public Policy Polling unveiled a week before found 55 percent of commonwealth residents back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said in a statement he knows of “too many couples” who have moved out of the commonwealth because of “a lack of protections now offered to our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Maryland.”

“With a total of 13 states and D.C. offering equality to couples, Virginia is at a competitive and economic disadvantage,” Ebbin said. “After all, forward thinking companies of all sizes locate where their diverse workforces will enjoy a high quality of life.”

Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Virginia in Harrisonburg, defended Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“The voters of Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 defining marriage in the commonwealth as being only a union of one man and one woman,” Martin said. “It is the law in this state based on the popular will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box.”

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, although spokesperson Brian Gottstein referred to a statement he released after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.

“Virginia has followed the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for more than 400 years,” Cuccinelli said in a June 26 statement on the justices’ rulings. “Virginians voted overwhelmingly to add this traditional definition to their constitution.”

Cuccinelli, who will face off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in the commonwealth’s gubernatorial election, highlighted his opposition to same-sex marriage last month during a debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs. GOP lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshein, who is running to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, also oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians.

McAuliffe in February publicly backed same-sex marriage. State Sens. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) and Mark Herring (D-Loudoun,) who are running for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively, also support the issue.

Joanne Harris, Jessica Duff, Staunton, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

01
Aug
2013

Olson, Boies join Virginia marriage lawsuit

David Boies, Ted Olson, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Ted Olson and David Boies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The American Federation of Equal Rights on Sunday announced the lawyers who argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court will join a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturns Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Washington Post first reported attorneys representing Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond asked Ted Olson and David Boies to join the case. The plaintiffs joined one of their lawyers, Tom Shuttleworth, AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin at a press conference that took place at the National Press Club in downtown D.C. on Monday

“I’m a Virginian,” Olson said, referring to the fact that Thomas Jefferson and many of the country’s other founding fathers are from the commonwealth. “Of all places in the United States, Virginia should recognize the rights of equality. Men and women in that state have the same basic fundamental underlying freedoms that everyone in America has.”

“This case is about liberty,” Boies added. “It’s about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the inalienable right of every individual to marry the person who they love.”

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)

Bostic and London, who have been together for 24 years, in July filed a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s gay nuptials ban after the Norfolk Circuit Court denied them a marriage license. Towning and Schall, who have been together for 30 years and married in California in 2008, joined the Norfolk couple’s case earlier this month when their lawyers filed an amended lawsuit.

“We aren’t asking for special privileges or treatment,” Towning said at the National Press Club press conference as she stood alongside Schall and their 15-year-old daughter Emily. “We just want to be the same as everyone else to be married.”

Bostic told reporters his family’s Virginia roots date back to before the Declaration of Independence.

“I also stand before you as an individual who has and continues to be discriminated against by my home state because of who I am and who I love,” he said.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Virginia voters in 2006 approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but Olson and Boies’ decision to join this case comes as the issue of nuptials for gays and lesbians continues to gain traction across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down Prop 8 and a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last month filed a class action federal lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban on behalf of two lesbian couples from Richmond and Staunton who had been denied marriage licenses. The ACLU in July formally challenged Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 10 same-sex couples and a lesbian widow.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday said he’d appeal a judge’s ruling that said the state must allow gays and lesbians to marry. An Illinois judge on the same day said two lawsuits that challenge the state’s same-sex marriage ban can proceed.

Gay couples in New Mexico and Ohio have also filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights.

Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia on Monday filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg that seeks an expedited judgment in their case that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Virginians denied the freedom to marry have no meaningful legislative path to gain the same protections for their families as other loving committed couples,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said. “That’s why we’ve had to ask the federal court to overturn Virginia’s sweeping bans on recognizing same-sex relationships. We shouldn’t have to go to federal court to get Virginia to do what’s right.”

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is among those who applauded Olson and Boies’ decision to join the case.

“It is not a question of whether marriage equality will come to Virginia; it is a question of when,” he said in a statement in which he also praised Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia for challenging the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. “This is the time for Virginia to wake up from history–as Jefferson said, ‘laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.’”

“This team brings years of experience advocating for the rights of gay and lesbian couples and will only help to ensure that all Virginians will soon be able to enjoy the freedom to marry,” James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, added. “As we continue our work to change hearts and minds throughout the state, we will closely monitor both this lawsuit and the one filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.”

Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, defended the gay nuptials prohibition.

“The voters of Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 defining marriage in the commonwealth as being only a union of one man and one woman,” Martin said. “It is the law in this state based on the popular will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box.”

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did not immediately return the Washington Blade’s request for comment. He did reaffirm his opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians as he squared off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe during the latest gubernatorial debate that took place in McLean on September 25.

“I understand and respect the fact that this is a sensitive issue to a lot of Virginians,” Cuccinelli said. “But I’m one of those who do believe that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.”

Both Olson and Umhoefer noted during the AFER press conference that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down the commonwealth’s interracial marriage ban in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.

“We’re hoping that the case in Virginia is the beginning of the end,” Boies said, referring to the movement for marriage rights for same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court found Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. “The citizens of Virginia, no less than the citizens of California are entitle to marry the person they love.”

Boies told the Blade he and Olson decided to join the case Bostic and London and Schall and Townley filed because it was the first one in the commonwealth to “establish marriage equality.” Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal said after the AFER press conference that Boies and Olson’s involvement in legal efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in Virginia “can only be a good thing.”

“We’re happy to collaborate and work with anyone who shares this goal,” Nevins said.

Boies also told the Blade he would like to see President Obama intervene in the Virginia marriage case of which he and Olson are now a part as the Justice Department did in the Prop 8 lawsuit.

30
Sep
2013

Va. judge hears marriage case motions

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)

HARRISONBURG, Va.—A federal judge on Oct. 29 heard arguments on whether a lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban should become a class action.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski heard motions to dismiss Gov. Bob McDonnell and Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas E. Roberts as defendants in the case. The news agency said Urbanski did not rule on the motions.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal in August filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff in Staunton.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk in July filed a separate federal lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban after they unsuccessfully tried to apply for a marriage license.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights in September announced Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, had joined the Bostic case. The duo is also representing Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond who joined the lawsuit.

31
Oct
2013

More than 100 attend Equality Virginia lobby day

Equality Virginia, Richmond, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Virginia supporters gather on the steps of the state capitol building in Richmond on Jan. 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

RICHMOND, Va.—Dozens of advocates from across the commonwealth gathered in the state capital on Tuesday for Equality Virginia’s annual legislative lobby day.

They spoke with lawmakers in support of Senate Bill 701, which would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. Advocates also sought backing for measures that would define bullying in Virginia and require school districts to adopt policies that specifically prohibit students and school employees from engaging in it.

They lobbied against House Bill 1617 that would prohibit publicly funded colleges and universities from discriminating against any student group based on their “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the organization or group’s speech.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Washington Blade during an interview at the Library of Virginia that the measure state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced “sounds very well-meaning.” He added his organization sees “the flip side of that as saying colleges have to fund organizations that willingly discriminate,” while referring to the controversy over the Boy Scouts of America’s long-standing ban on openly gay scouts and scoutmasters.

“Equality Virginia believes it is not our place to tell private organizations what to do,” Parrish said. “It is our place to say public dollars shouldn’t fund those organizations.”

Aside from advocating for or against specific measures, advocates also attended workshops on a variety of topics that included the lack of legal protections for LGBT Virginians and transgender advocacy in the commonwealth. Congressman Bobby Scott, state Dels. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels are among those who attended a post-lobby day reception at the Library of Virginia.

Parrish also announced that Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker will deliver the keynote address at Equality Virginia’s annual Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond on April 6.

“It’s an important issue to address — LGBT rights in general,” Fredericksburg attorney Jessica Jeanty told the Washington Blade. She met with state Del. Robert Orrock (R-Spotsylvania) and a legislative aide to state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) earlier in the day. “I was looking for a way to get involved, especially a way to get involved that’s effective. I think reaching out to state legislators is one of the most effective ways to make a difference in this area.”

The gathering took place four days after the state Senate passed SB 701 by a 24-16 vote margin. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates on Jan. 15 overwhelmingly approved gay interim Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship after blocking his nomination during a late-night vote last May that sparked outrage among LGBT advocates.

SB 701 faces an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, but state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) told the Blade during an interview at his capitol office that he remains optimistic about the measure’s prospects in light of Thorne-Begland’s appointment.

“I’d like to believe there’s a new sense of enlightenment in the House,” he said. “I’m hopeful that same sense of enlightenment will continue. The bill is all about fairness; it’s all about making sure that no one in the state workforce should have to worry about being discriminated against because of who they are. And to that end, it’s something that Fortune 500 companies do that call Virginia home, so I’m hopeful the House will look at the totality of the circumstances and see a way to pass it.”

A. Donald McEachin, Henrico County, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ebbin, who co-sponsored SB 701 with McEachin, said the four Republicans who voted for SB 701 indicate “we may do a little better in the House.”

“The subcommittee of the General Laws Committee we’ll go to has proved a very formidable obstacle in the past,” he conceded, while acknowledging the fact four Republican senators who voted for SB 701 indicate it may fair slightly better in the House than in previous years. “I’ve brought this forward every year since the Kaine administration and I’m committed to continuing to do so. We’re chipping away and I think eventually this will pass; eventually.”

Senate subcommittee approves ‘love shack’ bill

Ebbin spoke with the Blade hours after the Senate Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 939, which would repeal an 1873 law that criminalizes unmarried couples who live together.

Gov. Bob McDonnell told WTOP radio on Tuesday he supports the so-called “Love Shack” measure in spite of his views toward “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators” he expressed in his master’s thesis he wrote while attending Regent University in Virginia Beach. Ebbin said he remains “confident” that SB 939 will pass in the full Senate in the coming days.

“At this date, the House needs to acknowledge the reality of the 21st century,” he said. “I’m very optimistic they will.”

“Equality Virginia definitely supports getting rid of all these bills that are constitutionally irrelevant,” Parrish added. “We’re for getting all those laws off the books.”

Advocates: Va. LGBT rights movement continues to make strides

A House of Delegates subcommittee earlier this month killed a proposal that would have repealed the commonwealth’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but advocates maintain SB 701 and Thorne-Begland’s appointment prove the state’s LGBT rights movement continues to move forward.

“It is definitely progress, especially since both were so difficult,” Jeanty said. “I was shocked to hear that there was any kind of contention about Tracy Thorne-Begland at all, so to see that he finally has a full-time judgeship is great. I think that’s progress. I also think that SB 701 is progress, but I think there’s much more to go. There are many more bills that need to be passed. It’s a little bit of progress, but we still need more.”

Joyce Scher, co-founder of Mothers and Others of Virginia, agreed.

“I’m thrilled about Tracy, just absolutely thrilled,” she told the Blade during the Equality Virginia reception. “Sorry that everybody had to work so hard because he was so worthy of having that job.”

Ebbin, who is the first openly gay person elected to the Virginia Legislature, said he feels his Richmond colleagues have begun to respond favorably to LGBT-specific issues.

“I don’t bring up gay issues with everyone, but I think just being here — and they know who I am, does make a difference and over time things can only get better,” Ebbin said. “People say how can you stand being in Richmond. I say I love being here knowing that I can grab that microphone anytime I want when people say anything that needs to be reacted to. There’s no place I’d rather be than watching Virginia wake up from history.”

30
Jan
2013