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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

Terry McAuliffe sworn in as Virginia governor

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe was sworn in on Saturday as Virginia’s 72nd governor. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

RICHMOND, Va.—Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe on Saturday became Virginia’s 72nd governor amid hopes his administration will extend rights to LGBT Virginians.

“An open and welcoming state is critical to the 21st century economy, but it’s also imperative for justice and fairness,” said McAuliffe.

The former DNC chair stressed throughout his inaugural address the economy remains among his administration’s top priorities. McAuliffe also said the commonwealth needs to “ensure that someone can’t lose their job simply because they are gay.”

“As the legislature and my administration work to diversity our economy, we need to remember that our sense of urgency is driven by those Virginians who struggle each and every day just to get buy and whose dream is simply to give their children the opportunities that may never have had,” said McAuliffe. “My administration will work tirelessly to ensure opportunities are equal for all Virginia’s children no matter if you are a girl or a boy, no matter what part of the commonwealth you live in, no matter your race or your religion and no matter who you love.”

Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were also sworn in.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) told the Washington Blade in November after McAuliffe defeated then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the hotly contested gubernatorial race and Northam beat Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson that the election results were a “clear victory for equality” that brings “the promise of a new day for Virginia.”

McAuliffe, Northam and Herring support marriage rights for same-sex couples. The former Democratic National Committee chair later on Saturday is expected to issue an executive order that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“We couldn’t be more ecstatic,” Maggie Sacra, chair of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, told the Washington Blade earlier on Saturday during a brunch her group hosted at a downtown Richmond hotel.

Kathy Green of Henrico County said during the same event she feels former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli’s policies towards women’s reproductive health rights were “frightening.”

“Having Democrats in the statewide offices will really help to advance equal rights for our friends and co-workers and neighbors,” added Green.

Members of Public Advocate, an anti-LGBT group founded by Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delguadio, placed posters around the State House against the expected directive. They also handed out stickers that read “preserve traditional marriage” to passersby outside security checkpoints.

Lawmakers are expected to consider a number of LGBT-specific bills during the 2014 legislative session that began on Wednesday. These include measures that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in Virginia, extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians and prohibit “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in the commonwealth.

Eight lawmakers have also introduced proposed resolutions that would seek a repeal of Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

A federal judge in Norfolk on Jan. 30 is scheduled to hold the first hearing in a case challenging the commonwealth’s gay marriage ban that Ted Olson and David Boies, who argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, joined last September. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a separate class action federal lawsuit against the state’s ban on nuptials for same-sex couples on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who were denied marriage licenses.

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

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Blade during a Jan. 8 interview the tone from the governor and the attorney general’s offices will be “a 180” compared to former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli. He said the state House of Delegates will remain a barrier to advancing pro-LGBT measures even with McAuliffe, Northam and Herring in office.

“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.

Equality Virginia is among the groups that marched in the inaugural parade after McAuliffe, Northam and Herring took office. It is the first time an LGBT organization had been invited to take part in the quadrennial event.

Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade, Richmond

Equality Virginia was among the groups that marched in the Inauguration parade in Richmond, Va., on Saturday. It was the first time an LGBT group took part in the quadrennial event. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Bokenkamp/Equality Virginia)

11
Jan
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

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

4th Circuit denies request to stay Va. marriage ruling

Tim Bostic, Tony London, Virginia, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

On left, Timothy Bostic with partner Tony London (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex couples could begin to legally marry in Virginia as early as next week after a federal appeals court in Richmond on Wednesday denied a request to stay its ruling that found the state’s gay nuptials ban unconstitutional.

The same three judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that heard oral arguments in the case in May dismissed Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg’s motion to delay its July 28 decision.

Judges Henry F. Floyd and Roger L. Gregory voted against McQuigg’s motion, while Judge Paul V. Niemeyer backed it.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who continues to argue against the constitutionality of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban — last week formally petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk initially filed in July 2013.

Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield joined the lawsuit last September.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal are representing two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban in a separate case that has become a class action.

“Virginia’s loving, committed gay and lesbian couples and their children should not be asked to wait one more day for their fundamental right to marry,” 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 Fourth Circuit Court’s decision is consistent with dozens of other federal and state courts throughout our country, affirming this simple principle of equality under the law.”

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the ruling.

“There is no doubt that Virginia is ready for the freedom to marry,” he said. “We are thrilled that the 4th Circuit denied the request for a stay and hope that we will see wedding celebrations in Virginia as early as next week. Marriage validates the commitment couples make to one another and, if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, achieving marriage equality in Virginia will be a tremendous step forward.”

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, blasted the 4th Circuit’s decision not to stay its July 28 ruling.

“It’s shocking that the Fourth Circuit has introduced chaos to Virginia where other appellate courts have recognized that the final decision will likely be made by the Supreme Court,” she said. “This decision suggests an arrogance by these judges that is simply appalling.”

Same-sex couples could begin to legally marry in Virginia on August 20, pending any request for an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Washington Blade will provide further updates as they become available.

13
Aug
2014

Democrats, gay advocates blast Virginia GOP ticket

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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

Equality Virginia PAC endorses Democratic statewide candidates

Terry McAuliffe, Christopher Schaffer, Levar Stoney, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Terry McAuliffe (center) at an Equality Virginia fundraiser in Arlington, Va. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Equality Virginia’s political action committee on Friday announced it has endorsed the three Democrats running for statewide office in the commonwealth this November.

Equality Virginia Political Action Committee Executive Director James Parrish noted former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe, who is running for governor against current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun,) who is campaigning against state Sen. Mark Obenshein (R-Harrisonburg) for attorney general, have “shown public support for LGBT issues.”

McAuliffe in February publicly backed same-sex marriage. Northam, who will square off against E.W. Jackson in the lieutenant gubernatorial race, and Herring also support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

All three Democratic statewide candidates also back a proposed ban on discrimination against LGBT state employees that a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee killed earlier this year.

“Virginians have a very clear choice this November to show their support for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Parrish said.

Equality Virginia and other LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly criticized the GOP ticket for their opposition to same-sex marriage and other gay-specific issues.

Cuccinelli in March filed an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to a three-judge panel’s ruling that overturned the commonwealth’s sodomy law. He also spoke at an anti-gay marriage event at a Manassas church last fall to which the Washington Blade was denied access.

Jackson, who founded Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, has previously compared gay men to pedophiles and described them as “very sick people.”

Obenshein sponsored a measure that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed in March that bans public universities from denying recognition and funding to student groups that discriminate in their membership based on sexual orientation and other categories that federal law does not protect. He also opposed the bill that would have banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“In this election, the GOP’s ticket has made their position obvious on LGBT issues and the media has brought it to the forefront of the campaign,” Parrish said. “Our Democratic candidates for statewide office each have platforms that include working towards our fundamental human rights – not against them.”

Obenshein sought to distance himself from Jackson’s anti-gay statements – and specifically the suggestion that gay men are perverts – during an interview on News Talk with Bruce DePuyt on Channel 8 earlier on Friday.

“That statement is one I clearly don’t agree with,” Obenshein said.

21
Jun
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)

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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.

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Sep
2013