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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

Anti-gay group joins Va. marriage case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herring continues to face criticism for not defending marriage amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27
Jan
2014

Norton, Cheh win Stein endorsement

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mary Cheh, United States House of Representatives, District of Columbia Council, Democratic Party, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

The Stein Club voted to endorse the re-election races of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) (on left) and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, voted unanimously on Tuesday night to endorse the re-election races of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

The club also voted unanimously to endorse Democrat Franklin Garcia in his race for the city’s shadow U.S. House seat.

All three are running unopposed in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary. Norton and Cheh are longtime supporters of the LGBT community. Norton faces opposition in the November general election from Republican, Statehood-Green Party, and Libertarian Party candidates but is considered the strong favorite to win the election.

Cheh and Garcia are being challenged in the general election by Libertarian Party candidates. Cheh is viewed as the odds-on favorite to beat lesser-known Libertarian Ryan Sabot.

Garcia, a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and an LGBT rights supporter, is being challenged in November by gay Libertarian candidate Martin Moulton, who is expected to reach out for support in the LGBT community.

The Stein Club has scheduled an endorsement meeting and forum for City Council candidates running in the Democratic Primary for 7 p.m., Feb. 26, at the Unity Church of Washington at 1225 R St., N.W. The club will hold a mayoral candidates forum at 7 p.m. on March 6 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 474 Ridge St., N.W.

Stein Club Vice President Martin Garcia said that depending on time constraints, the club would listen to candidates running for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat and vote on an endorsement in that race either during the mayoral forum on March 6 or during the club’s regular meeting the following week on March 10.

12
Feb
2014

PFLAG to present ‘Bridegroom’

Bridegroom, gay news, Washington Blade

Shane and Tom, the central figures in the film ‘Bridegroom,’ which will be screened on March 11. (Still courtesy Mozark Productions)

The Howard County chapter of PFLAG will present the documentary film “Bridegroom” on March 11. The film, produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, tells the true story of two young small-town men, Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom, who fall deeply in love and remained together for six years until Tom’s fatal accident at the age of 29 in 2011.

Using interviews and footage from Shane’s video diary, “Bridegroom” describes the intense love between the two men and the reactions from family members as their relationship blossoms. Tom’s parents were not accepting.

Following the accident, the hospital staff initially would not permit Shane to visit him as he was not “family” under hospital rules. After he died, Tom’s parents cut Shane off from making funeral arrangements and being a part of the services. His life and relationship with Tom was completely eradicated as if it never occurred. Of course, if marriage equality had been legal (they were living in Prop 8 California at the time), the couple would have been married according to their stated plans, and Shane would have had the right to make the funeral arrangements.

The meeting, which is free, confidential and open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia. For more information, visit pflagmd.org.

05
Mar
2014

Gray, Bowser in tight race

Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, mayor, race, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser lead a slate of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in next week’s primary. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Supporters of Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his main rival, City Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were making a final appeal to LGBT voters for support this week just days before the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Two polls released on Tuesday and a separate poll released one week earlier each show Gray and Bowser in a statistical tie and far ahead of the other six mayoral candidates.

Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls over the past month has prompted her campaign to step up its effort to urge supporters of the other candidates — especially Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — to switch their backing to Bowser.

Although most observers believe the LGBT vote will be divided among several candidates, some activists say LGBT voters could be a deciding factor in the race if they coalesce behind either Gray or Bowser.

One of the polls released this week by the Washington Post shows Bowser with 30 percent support from a sample of likely voters, with Gray receiving 27 percent. An NBC4/Marist poll also released on Tuesday shows Bowser with 28 percent and Gray with 26 percent.

The poll released one week earlier and commissioned by WAMU Radio and the Washington City Paper showed Gray and Bowser each receiving 27 percent. All three polls show that Gray’s support has largely remained at the same level it was more than two months ago while Bowser’s support has risen by more than 10 points.

According to the NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday, among likely Democratic voters, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was in third place with 11 percent; Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was in fourth place with 9 percent; and Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) each had 4 percent.

Attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 2 percent and businessman Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent. Fifteen percent of the respondents were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

“The latest polls are showing what we knew all along — that this is a two-candidate race,” said gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who’s supporting Bowser. “All the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” he said.

“So this election is really not about whether someone will be good on LGBT issues,” Hamilton said. “It’s about things that need to be better in this city.”

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supports Gray, said she was troubled that some opponents of Gray are arguing that people shouldn’t vote for him because of the pending criminal investigation into an illegal shadow campaign on the mayor’s behalf in 2010.

At least four people associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign, including businessman Jeffrey Thompson, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the raising of more than $660,000 in illegal campaign funds. But despite statements by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen that more is to come in his ongoing investigation, which began four years ago, no charges have been filed against Gray, who strongly denies any involvement in illegal campaign activities.

“I don’t think the people moving toward Bowser are LGBT people for the most part,” Hughes said. “This is due to allegations against the mayor. Nothing has been proven. I’m very disappointed that so many people are buying into innuendo,” she said.

“I can’t turn away my support because of innuendo,” said Hughes. “I believe the mayor is of the utmost integrity and most people I know in the LGBT community share this view.”

Hughes and Lane Hudson, a local gay Democratic activist who founded an independent LGBT group supporting Gray called Gray Pride, are among a number of activists who consider Gray’s record on LGBT issues to be the strongest in the nation for a big city mayor.

Transgender activists have described as groundbreaking a first-of-its-kind city job training program initiated by Gray aimed at low-income transgender residents, who often face prejudice and discrimination when seeking employment. Also considered groundbreaking by activists was the mayor’s recent directive requiring health insurance companies doing business in the city to cover gender reassignment surgery and other procedures deemed medically necessary for transgender people in the process of transitioning.

Hudson, however, acknowledges that the campaign finance scandal has chipped away at Gray’s support among voters, including some LGBT voters.

“It will be a close race,” Hudson said. “The turnout will be crucial. The more activist types are favoring Gray,” he said. “I feel he is getting around half to a majority of LGBT votes.”

Evans and Wells supporters, meanwhile, questioned whether the latest polls accurately reflect the view of the people who will actually turn out to vote. They urged supporters to remain loyal to their respective candidate in a hotly contested election with an outcome that seasoned political observers, including LGBT advocates, said was unpredictable, in part, because the voter turnout is expected to be at an all-time low.

A low turnout is expected, according to political observers, because voters are unaccustomed to having a primary – or any city election – in April. In a controversial action, the D.C. Council voted last year to move the primary from September to April 1.

In addition to Democratic candidates, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors is running unopposed in his party’s mayoral primary on April 1, ensuring that he will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Also running unopposed in the April 1 primary is Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician who has run for public office several times in the past.

At a campaign rally Monday night at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, Evans reminded the mostly gay crowd that he has been on the front lines in support of LGBT rights since he began his tenure on the Council in 1991 when he led the effort to repeal the city’s sodomy law. In his GLAA questionnaire response, Evans lists nearly two-dozen LGBT-related bills he has introduced, co-sponsored or supported that have passed since he became a Council member.

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

‘I’m the alternative that you need,’ said Jack Evans. ‘And I can win if you vote for me.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Evans said he’s telling anyone who will listen – including LGBT voters – that he has a shot at winning if everyone familiar with his long record of accomplishment on a wide range of issues votes for him.

“What I’m saying to people is I’m the alternative that you need,” Evans said. “And I can win if you vote for me.”

All of the candidates except Allen have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. Although Allen has expressed general support on LGBT issues during candidate forums, he received a “0” rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance for failing to return a questionnaire asking about specific issues. The non-partisan GLAA rates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Gray received a +10, the highest possible rating from GLAA. He received 58 percent of the vote in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral endorsement forum, falling four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules. With support from Stein Club members divided among the candidates, the club did not endorse anyone for mayor.

Wells received a +9.5 GLAA rating; Evans received a +9, Shallal received a +6, Bowser received a +5.5, Lewis received a +4.5, and Orange received a +3.

The mayoral candidates responding to the GLAA questionnaire each expressed support for a wide range of LGBT issues and initiatives proposed by the non-partisan GLAA. GLAA President Rick Rosendall noted that none of the mayoral candidates were designated as hostile or in opposition to a significant LGBT issue.

Wells supporters point to his role as chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where he has pushed through a number of important LGBT-related bills, including a measure easing the ability of transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Wells has also monitored police handing of anti-LGBT hate crimes in a series of oversight hearings on the subject.

Orange supporters, including LGBT backers from his home base in Ward 5, note that, among other things, he helped push through legislation to create the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs and worked with gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in securing Council passage of an amendment that added transgender people to the D.C. Human Rights Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Shallal said he regularly arranges for his Busboys and Poets restaurants to host and sponsor LGBT-related events, including “a monthly queer open series that encourages self-expression for the LGBT community.”

Lewis said that as a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, she backed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implementation of domestic partnership benefits and spousal privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service employees. “I was proud to have been a part of the administration that made it possible for landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to become law,” she said on her GLAA questionnaire response.

A breakdown of the GLAA rating scores for each of the candidates and their questionnaire responses can be accessed at glaa.org.

26
Mar
2014

Virginia House subcommittee to consider marriage ban repeal bill

Ken Cucinelli, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Jan. 30 is scheduled to hold a hearing in a federal lawsuit that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who lack marriage rights in the state.

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

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

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

15
Jan
2014

BHT awards $75,000 in grants

Brother Help Thyself, BHT, Ziegfeld's, gay news, Washington Blade, grants

The Brother, Help Thyself grant awards ceremony was held at Ziegfeld’s last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Brother, Help Thyself, a local organization that supports LGBT and HIV/AIDS work, awarded about $75,000 in grants to 31 area nonprofits last weekend at a reception held at Ziegfeld’s/Secrets nightclub.

Among the grant recipients were: AIDS Action Baltimore, the DC Center’s HIV Working Group, DC Rape Crisis Center, Equality Maryland Foundation, Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, Helping Our Brothers and Sisters, HIPS, Latino GLBT History Project, Rainbow History Project, SMYAL and the Wanda Alston Foundation.

“What really makes this annual event so wonderful, on top of the awarding of the actual checks, is the opportunity for our grantees to network and connect,” said BHT President Jim Slattery. “They all do such great work and their expertise and best practices are vital to our community and each other.”

In addition to the grants, BHT presented four annual awards. The Billy Collison Award, BHT’s underdog award, was given to Baltimore’s Hope Springs. The George Dodson Business award went to GayRVA.com. The Founders Award, given to an organization doing great work with little funding, went to Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center. And the Anthony J. Bachrach Award, which recognizes an individual doing outstanding work on behalf of the community, was presented to David Mariner, executive director of the DC Center.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the event.

29
Jan
2014

Gay marriage opponent working for Shallal campaign

Andy Shallal, Busboys and Poets, District of Columbia, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Shallal’s campaign has paid $4,000 to an official who ran for D.C. mayor in 2010 on a platform supporting a voter referendum to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law. (Photo by Laela25; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A candidate who ran for D.C. mayor in 2010 on a platform supporting a voter referendum to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law was paid $4,000 in December as a consultant to Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, according to campaign finance records.

Records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance on Jan. 31 identify the consultant as 2010 mayoral candidate and former TV news anchor Leo Alexander.

In his run for mayor, Alexander’s campaign received at least $1,950 from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and was backed by Bishop Harry Jackson, the Maryland minister who led the unsuccessful campaign to repeal the city’s marriage equality law.

Alexander received less than 1 percent of the vote in the September 2010 Democratic primary, far behind then City Council Chair Vincent Gray, who won the primary and then Mayor Adrian Fenty, came in second place behind Gray.

Shallal has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. As owner of the local Busboys and Poets restaurant chain, Shallal has hosted LGBT events at his restaurants.

Shallal campaign spokesperson Dwight Kirk told the Washington City Paper that Alexander met with Shallal before joining the campaign and promised that he changed his mind and that his positions “evolved” on the same-sex marriage issue since his 2010 campaign.

But City Paper columnist Will Sommer, who was the first to report Alexander’s connection with the Shallal campaign, said in a posting on Thursday that Alexander wouldn’t tell him whether his positions on gay marriage changed.

News of Alexander’s involvement in the Shallal campaign comes two weeks after news surfaced that an advocate for a voter referendum on the D.C. marriage equality law in 2010 was working as a paid consultant in January for Gray’s re-election campaign.

Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob King, who was paid by the anti-gay NOM in 2010, is currently being paid to help the Gray campaign arrange logistics to drive senior citizens to the polls for the April 1 primary. Gray campaign chair Chuck Thies said King has no role in policy making issues and now accepts the marriage equality statute as the “law of the land.”

Alexander and Kirk couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the Blade.

21
Feb
2014

Levine seeks U.S. House seat from Va.

Mark Levine, Democratic Party, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Levine (Photo courtesy of Levine for Congress)

Gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine on March 9 officially launched his campaign for the U.S House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D).

At a rally in his Old Town Alexandria townhouse packed with supporters and family members, including his parents, Levine described himself as an “aggressive progressive” who will fight for the progressive causes and policies that he said many fellow Democrats have shied away from.

As a staff attorney for gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Levine said LGBT rights and marriage equality would be an important part of his campaign platform and would be at the top of his agenda if elected to Congress.

“I think all too often Democrats take what they can get and maybe cast a vote but aren’t out there changing the course of the debate,” he said.

“So those of you who know me and even some of you that don’t know me that well know that I’m really not a quiet person,” he said, drawing laughter and applause. “I don’t think we need quiet people in Congress.”

Levine is one of 11 candidates running in the hotly contested Democratic primary in a heavily Democratic district where the winner of the primary is expected to win the general election in November.

Among the others running are gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), and State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out as gay last month in a column in the Washington Post.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises money for out LGBT candidates, has endorsed Ebbin. The group called Ebbin a champion for progressive causes and LGBT equality during his nine years in the Virginia General Assembly, both as a senator and former delegate.

Levine said he hopes to distinguish himself from his rivals by drawing attention to his experience in legal and public policy work for more than 20 years. He pointed to his stint as a congressional staffer and his outspoken advocacy for progressive causes, including universal health care, in his regular appearances on radio and TV political talk shows such as those on Fox News and MSNBC.

12
Mar
2014

Federal judge stays second Va. marriage lawsuit

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

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

A federal judge on Monday put on hold a lawsuit filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski noted in his five-page ruling the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., last month allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who brought the case on behalf of Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester – to intervene in a separate same-sex marriage lawsuit filed last year by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield.

Urbanski in January certified the Harris case as a class action.

“Plaintiffs indicated that their main goal was to have their day in court and to be heard on the important issues raised in this case on the same schedule as the Bostic case,” wrote Urbanski, referring to a status conference in the Harris case that took place on Feb. 19. “As a result of the 4th Circuit’s order on March 10, 2014, allowing plaintiffs to intervene in the Bostic appeal, plaintiffs have the opportunity. Because of this seismic procedural development, the constitutional issue in this case is now in the hands of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay legal group, appealed Wright’s ruling to the 4th Circuit. The federal appeals court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 12.

“Redefining marriage harms marriage’s ability to serve those interests by serving marriage’s inherent connection to procreation and communicating that the primary end of marriage laws is to affirm adult desires rather than serve children’s needs, and suppressing the importance of both mothers and fathers to children’s development,” wrote Byron J. Babione of the Alliance Defending Freedom in a brief he filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28.

Attorney General Mark Herring earlier this year announced he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“The commonwealth of Virginia will file its response brief in the Bostic appeal by April 11, as will the Bostic plaintiffs and the Harris plaintiffs,” said Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly late on Monday.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and other states have filed same-sex marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A poll that Quinnipiac University released on Monday shows 50 percent of Virginia voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples, compared to 42 percent who oppose the issue. The survey further noted 69 percent of Democrats and only 23 percent of Republicans support gay nuptials.

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Apr
2014