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Va. plaintiffs’ daughter leads normal life in the spotlight

Emily Schall-Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade, daughter

Emily Schall-Townley (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

CHESTERFIELD, Va.– The forsythia shrubs behind Emily Schall-Townley’s suburban Richmond home were in full bloom on Saturday morning as she and her friend, Jordan Cramer, took pictures of each other around an abandoned house. The two teenagers joked, laughed and even teased each other as they took pictures of each other.

“You’re weirdly normal,” Cramer said to her friend.

Schall-Townley repeatedly stressed to the Washington Blade during a series of exclusive interviews at her home on April 4 and 5 that she is simply a normal teenager in spite of her parents’ decision to challenge Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I’m just a normal, run-of-the-mill person,” she said while siting on a couch in the living room as her parents – Mary Townley and Carol Schall – and Nicholas Graham of the American Foundation for Equal Rights listened.

Schall-Townley, who is a sophomore at Monacan High School in North Chesterfield, has played basketball since she was in third grade. The 16-year-old who obtained her learner’s permit a few months ago also enjoys reading, watching television and spending time with her friends.

“She’s an honor student,” noted Schall proudly after Schall-Townley and another friend, Haley Eiser, left to go to watch “Captain America” at a local movie theater. “Next year she’s taking four or five AP classes.”

Schall-Townley excitedly noted to the Blade while sitting in her living room that she has a “celebrity crush” on Darren Criss from “Glee.” She said she had a dream the night before that Graham received a phone call from Criss on his cell phone while he was working in her family’s home – and she was able to talk with him.

“I love him so much,” said Schall-Townley.

She also noted she would like to meet Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” who is a founding AFER board member.

“I think the chances are high for that one,” said Schall-Townley as her parents began to laugh. “I know who Dustin Lance Black is. He’s dating Tom Daley and Tom Daley is beautiful.”

‘This is big’

Emily Schall-Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Schall-Townley with her friend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Schall-Townley’s first experience in the spotlight came last September when her parents and Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk – who two months earlier filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s marriage amendment – attended a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. where AFER announced former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies had joined the case.

Schall and Townley – who have been together for nearly 30 years and married in California in October 2008 – told their daughter a few weeks earlier that they were going to challenge the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. Schall-Townley told the Blade the D.C. press conference was the first time she realized “OK, so this is big.”

“I felt important,” she said. “It’s not like I got asked the questions or anything like that, but it was like, ‘Wow, I’m on TV with my parents.’ I was nervous.”

Schall-Townley was with her parents inside a federal courtroom in Norfolk on Feb. 4 when U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen heard oral arguments in the case.

Schall and Townley broke down their lawyers’ arguments against the marriage amendment in an e-mail they sent to Schall-Townley before the hearing. They also wrote notes to each other during the oral arguments.

Schall-Townley said she felt “bad” for the lawyers for the defendants – Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg – who referred to “accidental procreation” during the proceeding. Schall-Townley also recalled Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom arguing that same-sex marriage is bad for children.

“That was hard to hear,” she said.

Ruling interrupts Olympic men’s figure skating finals

Schall-Townley was at home watching the men’s Olympic figure skating finals on Feb. 13 when her parents learned Allen had found Virginia’s marriage amendment unconstitutional. It snowed earlier in the day, and Schall shoveled the driveway in anticipation that she and her family would have to drive to Norfolk if the judge issued her decision.

“I was really excited to watch the men’s figure skating final and then we got the call,” she said. “All the attention was demanded there and so we never got to watch it.”

Schall-Townley’s friend Dominque joined her, her parents, Bostic and London and their lawyers at a Norfolk press conference the next morning. She also attended the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond on April 4 with Schall and Townley.

“At the hearing I had talked to reporters with a TV camera, so it was at least a little bit less daunting,” said Schall-Townley, referring to the reporter from a Norfolk television station with whom she spoke after Allen issued her ruling. “It wasn’t my first time doing it.”

Schall, to whom Schall-Townley refers as “mama,” then proceeded to open up an ottoman in the living room that contained clips about the case. She refers to Townley, who is her birth mother, as “mommy.”

Schall-Townley teased Schall about the six copies of a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch feature on her and her family that Schall kept in a shopping bag.

“It’s getting harder and harder to keep up,” said Schall.

Schall-Townley told the Blade the strangest question she has received thus far came from a radio host who asked her about whether she likes boys.

“I just felt really awkward answering it,” she said. “They didn’t use it, but I was still like I don’t know. It’s because people assume that maybe if you have two lesbian parents they have to have a lesbian child. That’s not true if you have two straight parents and then you have a gay kid.”

Schall-Townley said her classmates, friends and their parents have been supportive of her and her parents as the case works its way through the courts. She noted she thought the same-sex marriage opponents who gathered outside the Norfolk courthouse on Feb. 4 were “funny.”

“I just kind of laughed it off,” said Schall-Townley. “It didn’t bother me.”

“We’re never going to win them over,” added Schall. “If somebody has the strength and puts the effort into making a sign to stand out in front of a courthouse, they’re not the people that we want to win over. We want to win over the people who are sitting in their living rooms and looking at us and saying, ‘well they look normal, maybe it’s OK.’ It’s the middle we want to move, not the end. And those are the wing nuts.”

Friend: Parents ‘deserve the right’ to marry

Emily Schall-Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Schall-Townley with a friend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on May 13.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Counsel and other anti-LGBT groups have filed briefs with the federal appeals court that argue marriage between a man and a woman is necessary for procreation.

“They actually brushed over our story as if it didn’t exist,” said Townley. “They never mentioned Emily, I mean purposely I think. They don’t mention there have been actual harms that have happened to us.”

Staff at a Richmond hospital admitted Townley when she had pregnancy-related complications, but they refused to allow Schall to see her for several hours. Schall has joint and legal custody of her daughter, but Virginia law does not allow second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples.

A clerk at a local post office in 2012 told Schall she is “nobody, you don’t matter” when she and Townley tried to renew Townley-Schall’s passport.

“They don’t even mention that we have a daughter because it’s so counter to their entire argument,” said Schall, referring to the Alliance Defending Freedom and other groups that continue to defend Virginia’s marriage amendment. “It’s their game.”

Mary Townley, Emily Townley-Schall, Carol Schall, Virginia, Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

From left, Mary Townley, Emily Schall-Townley and Carol Schall attended the 2014 Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner on April 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Schall-Townley’s friends repeatedly told the Blade they “love” her parents.

“It’s great what they’re doing,” said Eiser, discussing how she feels her friend has handled the attention around the case. “Emily’s handled it perfectly.”

“They deserve the right to be married,” added Cramer. “Somebody’s always going to find somebody to be prejudiced against. It’s ridiculous. They’re still human beings; they have the right to do that and they’re not different just because they like the same sex.”

Schall-Townley and her parents feel hopeful ahead of next month’s oral arguments in the 4th Circuit. She described the prospect of the lawsuit reaching the U.S. Supreme Court as “so cool.”

“Any of the cases could be the one that was making [same-sex marriage] for the entire nation legal,” said Schall-Townley. “The fact we could be the case would be cool.”

09
Apr
2014

Efforts to repeal Virginia marriage amendment blocked

Adam Ebbin, Alexandria, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in November introduced a resolution that sought to repeal a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Virginia lawmakers this year will not consider proposed resolutions that sought to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

State Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee, on Jan. 9 announced it will not hear any so-called first reference constitutional amendments during the 2014 legislative session. He said his committee will instead consider them next year.

“Virginia Republicans refusal to even consider same-sex marriage is backwards and proving increasingly archaic,” said state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) in a Monday press release that announced Cole’s decision. “Marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other, in good times and bad.”

A House subcommittee last year killed Surovell’s proposed resolution that sought to repeal the marriage amendment that Virginia voters approved by a 57-43 percent margin in 2006. The Fairfax County Democrat on Jan. 8 introduced a bill that would repeal the commonwealth’s statutory ban on marriages and civil unions for same-sex couples.

“Virginians are ready to repeal the Marshall-Newman amendment,” said gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) earlier on Monday during a Richmond press conference at which state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County), state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County), Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and Rev. Robin Gorsline of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia discussed their 2014 legislative priorities. “This unfair and discriminatory law denies loving couples the chance to build a life together, throwing up burdens that straight couples never have to face.”

The Richmond press conference took place two days after Gov. Terry McAuliffe took office.

The former Democratic National Committee chair on Saturday signed an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT state employees.

McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban in two federal lawsuits that challenge it.

Other 2014 legislative priorities for LGBT rights advocates include McEachin’s bill that would ban discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Henrico County Democrat has also introduced a measure that would allow public colleges and universities and municipalities to offer benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners.

“Discrimination is wrong, and we should be doing more to prevent it,” said McEachin on Monday.

State Dels. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) and Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) have introduced measures that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the commonwealth. Simon and state Del. Joseph Yost (R-Giles County) have also proposed bills that seek to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

Yost and state Del. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) have introduced bills in their respective chambers that would extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians. Hope on Monday formally put forth a measure that would ban so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in Virginia.

Cole did not immediately return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

13
Jan
2014

Herring: Va. gay couples entitled to ‘equal justice under law’

Mark Herring, Virginia, Democratic Party, Attorney General, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Friday asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Because Virginia’s same-sex couples are entitled to equal justice under law, the court should affirm the judgment of the district court,” says Herring in a brief he filed with the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va.

Herring, who announced in January he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, dismissed Prince William County Circuit Clerk Michèle McQuigg’s claims in a brief the Alliance Defending Freedom filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28 that say the gay nuptials ban is necessary for the “procreation” of children. Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, has also appealed U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February ruling that struck down Virginia’s marriage amendment.

“McQuigg’s procreation-channeling theory cannot justify Virginia’s ban because it is irrational to think that banning same-sex marriage will make heterosexual couples more likely to marry and have children of their own,” says Herring. “The responsible-procreation/optimal-child-rearing rationale is outright demeaning to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. It tells those who are not interested in having children, or unable to have them the ‘natural’ way, that their relationships are less important, if not ‘unworthy.’”

Herring urges the 4th Circuit to reject “genderless marriage,” “marriage mimicking construct” and other “prejorative phrases” that McQuigg uses to describe gay nuptials.

“Marriage between gay people is no more ‘genderless’ than marriage between heterosexuals; gender plays a vital role,” says Herring. “Plaintiffs do not seek to mimic marriage; they seek to marry. Calling it ‘genderless’ and ‘marriage mimicking’ is insulting, ‘just as it would demean’ heterosexuals to say that their marriage is ‘simply about’ opposite-sex ‘intercourse.’”

Herring also sought to repudiate the claims Concerned Women for America made in an amicus brief it filed with the 4th Circuit last Friday that say gays and lesbians are “not politically powerless.”

He referenced statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that indicate anti-gay bias motivates 20 percent of all hate crimes in the U.S. Herring also noted 270 anti-gay hate crimes have been reported in Virginia between 2004 and last September.

The commonwealth’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws do not include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The first executive order that Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued after taking office in January bans discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“For whatever success the gay rights movement has had in some states, it has met with failure time and again in the commonwealth, where gay people remain ‘a politically unpopular group,’” says Herring, referring to last June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Herring – like Allen in her ruling – repeatedly references the landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down interracial marriage bans.

“Just as in 1967, the court should not wait to protect the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights simply because political trends suggest that the public increasingly supports marriage equality,” he said.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield last year challenged the commonwealth’s marriage amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – which filed a separate lawsuit last summer on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton – have been allowed to join the Bostic case.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit as a class action.

“They’re not asking for special privileges,” said Herring on April 5 during the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond. “They’re just asking to be treated fairly and equally.”

The 4th Circuit is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 13.

11
Apr
2014

Virginia lawmakers kill two pro-LGBT bills

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

Virginia Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-HenricoCounty) introduced a bill that would have banned anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Virginia lawmakers on Monday killed two bills that sought to extend rights to LGBT Virginians.

Members of the Virginia House of Delegates Civil Law Subcommittee in a 4-5 vote struck down a proposal that would have repealed the state’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

State Dels. Gregory Habeeb (R-Salem), David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) and G. M. (Manoli) Loupassi (R-Richmond) voted for House Bill 939 that state Del Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) introduced earlier this month. State Dels. Randall Minchew (R-Loudoun County), Terry Kilgore (R-Scott County), A. Benton Chafin (R-Russell County), Jeffrey Campbell (R-Smyth County) and James Leftwich (R-Chesapeake) opposed the measure.

State Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) was not present for the vote due to a death in her family.

“We’re making progress in changing people’s opinion,” Surovell told the Washington Blade after the vote, noting two Republicans supported HB 939. “Five years ago I’m not sure Republicans would have felt comfortable voting for the bill.”

Members of the Virginia Senate General Laws and Technology Committee on Monday in a 7-7 vote struck down a bill state Sens. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) and Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

Ebbin along with state Sens. George Barker (D-Alexandria), Charles Colgan (D-Manassas), Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax County), Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester) voted for Senate Bill 248. Committee Chair Frank Ruff (R-Mecklenburg County) voted against the measure alongside Walter Stosch (R-Henrico County,) Stephen Martin (R-Chesterfield County), Richard Stuart (R-Westmoreland County), Richard Black (R-Loudoun County), Bryce Reeves (R-Fredericksburg) and Thomas Garrett (R-Goochland County).

“These senators refuse to acknowledge what the Virginia public and business community have long understood: protecting LGBT employees is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense and will contribute to the overall success of the commonwealth,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish in a statement after the SB 248 vote.

The House Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee last January killed Surovell’s proposed resolution that sought to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. State Del Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, on Jan. 9 announced lawmakers will not consider any proposals seeking to repeal the state’s gay nuptials prohibition during the 2014 legislative session.

State Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) earlier this month introduced a proposed resolution that sought to amend the state constitution to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Virginia. The Alexandria Democrat’s proposal would have also allowed the commonwealth to recognize gay nuptials legally performed in Maryland, D.C. and other jurisdictions.

A hearing in a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is scheduled to take place in Norfolk on Jan. 30. 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 are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.

It remains unclear whether Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring — both of whom publicly support nuptials for gays and lesbians — will defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

The first executive order that McAuliffe signed after taking office on Jan. 11 bans discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The Virginia Senate last January by a 24-16 vote margin approved McEachin’s bill that sought to ban anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees. A House subcommittee subsequently killed the proposal.

“Last year, a very similar bill passed the full Senate last year with bipartisan support,” said McEachin on Monday. “This year, Republicans wouldn’t even let it out of committee. I am bitterly disappointed to see us regressing. State employees — like all workers — deserve to know that they’re being judged on the merits, and not irrelevant details from their personal lives.”

State Dels. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) and Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) have introduced measures that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the commonwealth. Simon has also put forth a bill that seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

20
Jan
2014

Mark Herring to challenge Virginia same-sex marriage ban

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday will announce he will not defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Washington Post reported Herring will announce the state constitutional amendment that prohibits gay nuptials is unconstitutional. The newspaper also cited an official who said Herring will join a federal lawsuit challenging the ban that two same-sex couples from Norfolk and Richmond — Timothy Bostic and Tony London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley — filed last year.

Herring discussed his decision during an interview with NPR News.

“There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side; was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law,” Herring told Steve Inskeep of “Morning Edition.” “And as attorney general I’m going to make sure that the person presenting the state’s legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

State Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) welcomed Herring’s announcement.

“Elections have consequences and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision makes clear that we must give full faith and credit to non-Virginia gay marriages,” the Fairfax County Democrat told the Washington Blade after the Post published its story. “Attorney General Herring is simply enforcing the law of the land as reflected [and] interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court six months ago.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish described Herring’s decision as “truly commendable.”

“This is a new day for loving gay and lesbian couples who want to marry the person they love in the state they call home,” Parrish told the Blade. “Thanks to Mark Herring, today we are one step closer to equality and fairness for LGBT Virginians.”

The expected announcement comes less than two weeks after Herring took office alongside Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam.

Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who ran against McAuliffe, vehemently opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the commonwealth. The former GOP gubernatorial candidate wrote in a non-binding opinion to state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) one day before leaving office that a governor may not require any state government agency to allow gays and lesbians to receive “joint marital status” for state income tax returns.

Herring in 2006 voted against marriage rights for same-sex couples while in the state Senate. Virginia voters the same year approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay nuptials by a 57-43 percent margin.

State Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee, earlier this month announced it will not consider any proposed resolutions that sought to repeal the marriage amendment during the 2014 legislative session.

The House Civil Law Subcommittee on Monday narrowly struck down Surovell’s bill that would have repealed the commonwealth’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

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

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk is scheduled to hold a hearing in the Bostic case on Jan. 30. 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 who are seeking marriage rights in the state.

The Blade will provide further updates as they become available.

23
Jan
2014

Virginia Senate committee kills second-parent adoption bill

James Parrish, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish on Jan. 24 criticized lawmakers who voted against a second-parent adoption bill (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia lawmakers on Friday killed a bill that would have extended second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Members of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee by a 6-6 vote margin struck down the measure that state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) introduced on Jan. 7.

State Sens. Linda “Toddy” Puller (D-Fairfax County), Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), George Barker (D-Alexandria), Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), John Miller (D-Newport News) and Kenneth Alexander (D-Norfolk) voted for Senate Bill 336. State Sens. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover County), Richard Black (R-Loudoun County), Bryce Reeves (R-Fredericksburg) and Walter Stosch (R-Henrico County) opposed the measure.

State Sen. Thomas Norment (R-Williamsburg) did not vote.

There are also two vacancies on the committee that have yet to be filled since Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring — both of whom were state senators before their election last November — took office on Jan. 11.

“By denying passage of the second-parent adoption bill, Senators Wagner, Hanger, McDougle, Black, Reeves and Stosch are simply denying children across Virginia who are being raised by loving lesbian or gay parents the protection and security that having two legal parents would offer,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish. “Today’s Senate committee vote against second-parent adoption is just another example of how completely out of touch these senators are with their constituents and the majority of Virginians. They are standing on the wrong side of history.”

Virginia law currently allows only heterosexual couples and single gays and lesbians to adopt children.

A 2012 law allows private adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents based on religious or moral beliefs. Parrish and other LGBT rights advocates maintain this so-called “conscience clause” could subject gays and lesbians to additional discrimination in the commonwealth.

The House Civil Law Subcommittee on Monday is scheduled to debate a second-parent adoption bill that state Del. Joseph Yost (R-Giles County) introduced earlier this month.

State Dels. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), Gordon Helsel (R-Poquoson), Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church), Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Tom Rust (R-Fairfax County) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) have co-sponsored House Bill 1113.

25
Jan
2014

McAuliffe links marriage, LGBT rights to economic development

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

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday said extending marriage and other rights to LGBT Virginians is good for his state’s economy.

“I’ve got to grow and diversify this economy,” McAuliffe told the Washington Blade after he spoke at an Equality Virginia reception at the Library of Virginia. “This is what voters elected me to do, and in order to do that we’ve got to send a message that we’re open and welcoming to everyone.”

McAuliffe spoke to Equality Virginia supporters less than a week after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, suggested Herring should resign because he won’t defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown also said state lawmakers should impeach the attorney general over the issue.

“I’ve been in politics too long, I’m never surprised anymore,” McAuliffe told the Blade when asked whether the way Virginia Republicans and social conservatives have reacted to Herring’s announcement came as a surprise.

A federal judge in Norfolk on Thursday will hold a hearing in a lawsuit that two same-sex couples 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.

McAuliffe on Monday told state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) that he will not appoint a special counsel to defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage amendment after 30 lawmakers asked him to do so. A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Marshall and state Del. 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.

“Let’s get to work and do what voters want us to do and help them get jobs,” McAuliffe told the Blade, stressing Medicaid expansion and improving the state’s transportation infrastructure remain two of his administration’s top priorities. “Let’s focus on things that proactively get things done in the commonwealth and let’s stop the negative attacks.”

McAuliffe told Equality Virginia supporters before he spoke with the Blade that Democrats last year swept all three statewide offices for the first time in 24 years. His party also regained control of the state Senate after the party won two special elections that filled seats Herring and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam vacated last year after they won statewide office.

“Our ticket as you know was not shy about being out front on the issues that matter to us,” said McAuliffe. “I talked every day about how Virginia needs to be open and welcoming.”

McAuliffe backed marriage rights for same-sex couples last February. He repeatedly said during his campaign against then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that the first executive order he would sign as governor would be a ban on discrimination against LGBT state employees.

McAuliffe said he was “proud” to issue the aforementioned mandate shortly after he took office on Jan. 11.

“Mark and Ralph and I and the state Senate are going to continue to work to make sure that Virginia is opening and welcoming to treat everybody with equal respect,” said McAuliffe. “I need to grow and diversify the economy. We need to do that by making ourselves open and welcoming.”

29
Jan
2014

EXCLUSIVE: Va. Republican lawmaker backs gay nuptials

Joseph Yost, Virginia, Republican Party, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Del. Joseph Yost (R-Giles County) (Photo public domain)

RICHMOND, Va.—A member of the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday became the first Republican state lawmaker to back marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“As far as same-sex marriage goes, it does not bother me,” state Del. Joseph Yost (R-Giles County) told the Washington Blade during an interview at an Equality Virginia reception that took place at the Library of Virginia in downtown Richmond. “Why not?”

Yost, who represents the 12th Senate District that includes Radford, Giles County and portions of Montgomery and Pulaski Counties in southwestern Virginia, spoke with the Blade less than a week after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Yost, 27, also discussed the Republican Party of Virginia’s blistering criticisms of Herring over his announcement.

“It boils down to tradition; it’s just a generational gap,” said Yost. “I don’t think the government should be involved in marriage period — straight or gay. I feel like we have bigger things to worry about.”

The House of Delegates Civil Law Committee later on Wednesday is scheduled to vote on Yost’s bill that seeks to extend adoption rights to same-sex couples in Virginia. A state Senate committee on Jan. 24 killed an identical measure that state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) introduced earlier this month.

Yost earlier this month introduced a bill that sought to extend adoption rights to same-sex couples in Virginia.

“It’s pretty much a no-brainer issue,” Yost told the Blade. “It’s not about Democrats; it’s not about Republicans; it’s not about gay couples; it’s not about straight couples. It’s about the kids.”

Yost further discussed the issue.

“If there are two loving individuals out there who want to raise a child together, I see no reason why they can’t,” he said. “Quite frankly it’s about fairness.”

State Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) earlier this month introduced a bill that sought to ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in Virginia. State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester) last week voted for a bill that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees, while state Dels. Gordon Helsel (R-Poquoson) and Tom Rust (R-Fairfax County) have co-sponsored Yost’s second-parent adoption measure.

“I think when you look at where the party started and its history, it’s a party that was based on equality,” Yost told the Blade. “It’s what we do.”

Yost further described second-parent adoption and non-discrimination as “small potato issues.”

“I come from a younger generation,” he said. “I don’t get wrapped around the axle on these issues like some of my other colleagues. I think the more young people you see coming into politics, that’s what’s going to happen.”

29
Jan
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

Judge strikes down Virginia gay marriage ban

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)

A federal judge Thursday struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as unconstitutional.

“The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry,” said Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.”

Allen, who President Obama nominated to the federal bench in 2010, repeatedly referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that struck down Virginia’s interracial marriage ban in her 41-page decision. She also opened her decision with a quote from Mildred Loving, who publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples before her death in 2008.

“Tradition is revered in the commonwealth, and often rightly so,” said Allen. “However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

Allen also dismissed arguments made by those who defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that marriage rights for gays and lesbians harms children.

“Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest,” she said. “Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.”

Allen’s ruling comes less than two weeks after she heard oral arguments in a lawsuit that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year.

“We want to be married for the happy times, but we need to be married for the sad times,” Schall told the Washington Blade earlier this month before Wright heard oral arguments in their case. “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.”

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

Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he would not defend the amendment.

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Gov. Terry McAuliffe a few days earlier denied a request from 30 state 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.

“This decision is a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law,” said Herring in a statement after Allen issued her ruling in the Bostic case.

McAuliffe also applauded the decision.

“In order to grow our economy and attract the best businesses, entrepreneurs, and families to Virginia, we must be open and welcoming to all who call our commonwealth home,” he said in a statement. “As this case continues through the judicial process, I will enforce the laws currently on the books, but this decision is a significant step forward in achieving greater equality for all of our citizens.”

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court with David Boies, joined the lawsuit last September with the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Olson said in an AFER press release that Allen’s decision has “upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded.”

“Virginia’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status,” he said. “Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said Wright’s ruling “finally puts Virginia on the path toward allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry the person they love here in the place they call home.”

“This is an historic day in Virginia,” added Parrish.

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown blasted Allen.

“This is another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia,” said Brown in a statement.

Brown also again sharply criticized Herring for not defending the commonwealth’s marriage amendment.

“This case also leaves a particular stench because of the unconscionable decision of Attorney General Mark Herring to not only abandon his sworn duty to defend the laws of the state, but to actually join the case against the very people he is duty-bound to represent,” said Brown.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, also criticized Herring.

“Regardless of one’s stance on marriage, the people of Virginia were disenfranchised by this ruling as our voice and our vote that amended our Constitution have been rendered meaningless by a single federal judge with the assistance of our own attorney general,” she said.

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

The Southern Poverty Law Center earlier on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban on behalf of a gay widower who married his late-husband in Massachusetts in 2011.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Louisiana and other states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights 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. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this week announced she will no longer defend her state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 10 announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel. This directive applies to Virginia and the 31 other states that have yet to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) earlier on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban gay nuptials.

Allen has stayed her ruling, pending the outcome of an appeal.

14
Feb
2014