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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.


Beyer a longtime LGBT rights supporter

Don Beyer, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

Don Beyer (Photo public domain)

The following was submitted as a letter to the editor in response to “Beyer changed position on same-sex marriage” (news, March 19).


I was surprised to see the Blade single out Don Beyer as someone who has changed his position on gay marriage since 1997. Let’s be honest – a vast number of Americans have changed their position on gay marriage since 1997, and that is something that should be applauded, not criticized.

The truth is, like many of our friends and family, coworkers and neighbors, Don has evolved on this issue. In fact, Don evolved long before many of our current Democratic leaders. In 2003, Don endorsed Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in a primary in which Dean and no other candidate was in favor of gay marriage.

In 2006, when several Virginia Democrats joined Republicans in their crusade to ban gay marriage in the Commonwealth, Don personally contributed significantly to the effort opposing the Defense of Marriage Act referendum in Virginia. In doing so, he bucked many in his own party and even the majority of Virginia voters.  Don came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do well before many others, including many in the Democratic Party.

When my partner and I decided to start our own family in 2002, Don and his wife were among the first of our friends, gay or straight, to offer to help us. They have been unwavering advocates in the community for our family, which now includes two children, and we believe Don’s experience and perspective will be critical to addressing the unique issues we face going forward.

President Obama, Vice President Biden, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and nearly every Democratic elected official in Virginia has progressed on this issue, and ultimately, that’s what matters.

From prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and elsewhere, to supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation-based crimes in hate crime statutes, Don has been a strong advocate for LGBT rights. To try to paint him as anything otherwise is disingenuous and misleading; it also does a disservice to the people of Virginia.

I realize that in a crowded Democratic primary field we look for points of differentiation among the candidates. This isn’t one of them. —Mark C. Lowham


Supreme Court blocks Virginia same-sex marriages

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked same-sex marriage from taking place this week in Virginia. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to a stay Wednesday on a federal appeals court’s ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, blocking same-sex marriages from taking place this week in the Old Dominion.

Without explanation, the court announced in a single-page order it has stayed the ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals in Schaefer v. Bostic, which affirmed Virginia’s prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Although Chief Justice John Roberts is responsible for stay requests in the Fourth Circuit, the order indicates he referred the matter to the entire court. The vote by the Supreme Court on the decision isn’t included in the order.

The court adds that if the court ends up declining a writ of certiorari to hear the case, the stay will terminate automatically. But if the court decides to hear the case, the stay will continue until judgment is issued.

Had the court declined to issue a stay, clerks’ offices in Virginia could have started distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 8 am on Thursday. That’s when the Fourth Circuit was set to issue the mandate on its decision.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the stay decision from the Supreme Court “underscores of the urgency” of a national resolution in favor of marriage equality.

“Americans across the country are being deprived of the freedom to marry and respect for their lawful marriages, as well as the tangible protections and precious dignity and happiness that marriage brings,” Wolfson said. “It is time for the Supreme Court to affirm what more than thirty courts have held in the past year: marriage discrimination violates the Constitution, harms families, and is unworthy of America.”

The Supreme Court halted same-sex marriages in Virginia after Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who’s defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in court, requested the stay from justices. Attorneys representing same-sex couples in the lawsuit — both the Bostic and the Harris plaintiffs — had asked the court to decline the stay, but the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of Virginia Registrar of Deeds Janet Rainey filed a brief agreeing that a stay should be put in place.

Prior to the announcement from the Supreme Court, the anti-gay legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending Virginia’s marriage ban on behalf of McQuigg, followed up with a response insisting that a stay on the Fourth Circuit decision is necessary to prevent harm to the state.

“The balance of the harms thus reduces to this: the Bostic and Harris Respondents have identified potential harms (e.g., a delay in obtaining state recognition of their relationships) that will result only if they ultimately prevail in this case, whereas Clerk McQuigg and Registrar Rainey have identified certain harms (e.g., enjoining a duly enacted state constitutional provision) that will result as soon as the Fourth Circuit issues its mandate,” writes senior counsel Byron Babione. “That balance tips sharply in favor of staying the Fourth Circuit’s mandate.”

The litigation seeking same-sex marriage in Virginia itself has already been appealed to the Supreme Court. Earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who has refused to defend Virginia’s marriage law in court, filed an appeal on behalf of the state. Alliance Defending Freedom has already pledged to file a similar appeal seeking to uphold the ban.

Following the decision from the Supreme Court, Herring said in a conference call with reporters he wants an expedited resolution to the case, which is why he already petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision against the marriage law.

“It’s still difficult to expect Virginian folk to wait to exercise what I believe is a fundamental right, especially when we are so close to our goal, and that is why I’ve been pushing to expedite and get a ruling from the Supreme Court that will definitively answer the constitutional questions about marriage equality and permanently protect the families of Virginia’s same-sex couples,” Herring said.

Asked by the Washington Blade to respond to critics who would say it’s disingenuous to call Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on one hand, but support a stay on a ruling against it on the other, Herring emphasized he’s pushing for a speedy resolution to the case in favor of same-sex couples.

“I support and will continue to fight for equal treatment under the law, and I’m going to continue to do that,” Herring said. “But at the same, I recognize that until the Supreme Court makes its decision that outcome is not certain. So, to those who are tired of their state not treating them fairly and equally, I am working as hard as I can to fight for equality. I worked for it in the district court, I fought for it in the Fourth Circuit and I’ll fight for it in the Supreme Court.”

The American Foundation for Equal Rights announced after the stay decision was announced that it’ll file a brief in support of the petition already filed by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring calling on the Supreme Court to take up the case.

“The federal court system agrees, the majority of Americans agree, and the President of the United States agrees that it is time this country treats its same-sex couples and their children just the same as all other loving families,” said plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP. “We are confident that when the Supreme Court reviews the Bostic case, it too will agree and end the flagrant injustice of segregating Americans based on sexual orientation.”

The decision to block the same-sex marriages from occurring overturns a decision from the Fourth Circuit, which refused to grant a stay on its decision striking down Virginia’s marriage ban.

But the high court’s decision to stay same-sex marriages in Virginia is consistent with other stay decisions it has issued in other states following rulings in favor of marriage equality.

In January, the court issued a stay on same-sex marriages taking place in Utah as a result of a district court ruling in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert striking down the state’s ban on gay nuptials. Additionally, the court halted state recognition of these 1,300 marriages in Evans v. Utah after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the state for the time being should consider them valid.

Chris Gasek, senior fellow at the anti-gay Family Research Council, claimed the Supreme Court’s decision to stay same-sex marriages in Virginia as a victory for opponents of marriage equality.

“Today, the Supreme Court put a hold on the Fourth Circuit ruling, allowing Virginia’s law to continue to be enforced while the Fourth Circuit’s opinion is appealed,” Gasek said. “We are glad that the Court saw the wisdom of slowing down the judicial process in this instance so that marriages will not be entered into that would later have to be nullified. Such irresponsible mayhem has been witnessed in Utah, and it resulted in legal chaos for state residents and state officials.”


Adam Ebbin enters race for Congress

Adam Ebbin

Adam Ebbin (Photo courtesy Adam Ebbin)

Gay Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) officially tossed his hat in the ring on Thursday as a candidate for the Northern Virginia U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Jim Moran.

Ebbin joins seven other declared candidates running in the June 10 Democratic primary for a seat representing the strongly Democratic-leaning 8th Congressional District. The district includes parts of Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax County.

Other Democrats are expected to enter the race in a contest where the winner of the primary is considered the odds-on favorite to win the general election in November. All of the declared and potential candidates that have surfaced so far are supporters of LGBT rights.

“Today, I am excited to announce that I will be running to succeed Congressman Moran,” Ebbin said in a statement. “For over a decade in Richmond, I’ve been a strong voice for progressive values who’s gotten results. I’ve fought to end human trafficking, to strengthen protections for seniors and the disabled, to ensure LGBT equality and to expand Medicaid in Virginia,” he said.

On the same day Ebbin announced his candidacy Alexandria Mayor William Euille declared his candidacy for the congressional seat.

Earlier this week gay public relations executive Bob Witeck of Arlington said he was considering running for the seat, raising the possibility that two openly gay candidates might be among the contenders for Moran’s seat.

Last week, Jay Fisette, chair of the Arlington County Board, who’s gay and who many considered a possible candidate for the congressional seat, announced he would not be running.

Others who have formally declared their candidacies include Don Beyer, the former Virginia lieutenant governor; and state Dels. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) and Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington). Also running is businessman Bruce Shuttleworth, who lost to Moran in the 2012 Democratic primary.

On the day of his announcement, Ebbin launched a campaign website,, and sent out a fundraising email to potential voters that includes a video of Ebbin discussing the issues he would work for if elected.

“In Congress, I will work with President Obama to protect the Affordable Care Act and ensure access to quality health care,” he said. “I will protect federal workers from mean-spirited attacks. I will work alongside representatives from every state and political party to raise the minimum wage, fight climate change, and ensure that we never abandon the promise of Social Security and Medicare,” he said.


Southern LGBT groups file brief in Va. marriage case

Heather Mack, Ashely Broadway-Mack, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack and Ashley Broadway-Mack live in Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo courtesy of Equality North Carolina)

Two Southern LGBT advocacy groups on Friday filed an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Equality North Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition repeatedly reference the impact their respective states’ same-sex marriage bans have had on the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers in the 27-page brief they filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Tracy Johnson legally married Donna Johnson, a staff sergeant with the North Carolina National Guard, in D.C. in February 2012.

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed Donna Johnson eight months. Tracy Johnson has yet to receive death benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs because North Carolina does not recognize her D.C. marriage.

The brief also cites Ashley Broadway-Mack and Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack who live in Fort Bragg, N.C.

The women – who have been together for more than 15 years and are raising two children – exchanged vows in the nation’s capital in November 2012. Broadway-Mack is unable to make medical and other decisions on behalf of her children in North Carolina because the state does not recognize their marriage and prohibits second-parent adoption for gays and lesbians.

“Broadway-Mack lacks the rights and privileges granted to all other parents,” writes Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay and the mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., in the brief. “Once she steps off the military base and into Cumberland County, N.C., Broadway-Mack can no longer direct the education of her children or make decisions regarding their care.”

Kleinschmidt notes in the brief that Broadway-Mack could also lose custody of her children if something were to happen to Mack while on deployment.

“This situation leaves the family vulnerable,” he says. “Because of North Carolina’s discriminatory laws, Lt. Col. Mack and Broadway-Mack’s children lose the stability of having two legal parents. This harm is aggravated in the context of a military family when a parent’s life is put at risk in service to her country.”

Broadway-Mack discussed the brief with reporters during a conference call earlier on Friday.

“I question what legal problems I would have if something were to happen to Heather,” she said, noting her wife is currently in Afghanistan. “That is something that weighs on my very heavily.”

Fort Bragg is the largest U.S. Army installation in the country. Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point are also located in the Tar Heel State.

Parris Island and Fort Jackson are among the military installations in South Carolina.

“We believe individuals coming to the state for training purposes should receive the same protections as the state they came from,” said South Carolina Equality Coalition Executive Director Ryan Wilson.

North Carolina voters in 2012 approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and recognition of any other gay and lesbian relationships. South Carolinians in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their unions in the Tar Heel State.

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s second-parent adoption ban. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 4th Circuit next month is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit against it that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year. The federal appeals court in March allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who filed a separate lawsuit against the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – to join the case.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

“Our gay and lesbian service members put their lives on the line everyday for North Carolina, and it’s shameful that they and their families are treated as second-class by our present state of inequality,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro. “As these brave men and women courageously perform their duties with dignity and honor, at Equality NC we think its our duty to stand up for the freedom to marry for those who fight for the freedom for all.”

A.E. Dick Howard and Daniel R. Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law and Carl W. Tobias of the Richmond School of Law on Friday also filed an amicus brief with the 4th Circuit in the Bostic case. PFLAG, the Family Equality Council, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Cato Institute are among the groups that filed briefs with the federal appeals court.


‘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.”


Victory Fund endorses Catania for mayor

David Catania, Catania for mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania won the Victory Fund’s endorsement even though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an influential national group that raises money for LGBT candidates for public office, created a stir among local activists this week when it announced it has endorsed D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor.

With many LGBT activists supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election bid and others in the LGBT community supporting one of the four other City Council members running for mayor, some are asking why the Victory Fund would endorse Catania before he has formally announced he’s running for mayor.

Catania has formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral race and has said he most likely would run if Gray wins the Democratic primary on April 1.

Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai said that while the group doesn’t endorse unannounced potential candidates very often, it has taken this step before. He noted that the Victory Fund endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) for the U.S. Senate in 2012 before she officially announced she was running for the Senate.

Baldwin went on to declare her candidacy for the Senate and won that race, making history by becoming the first out lesbian or gay person to become a U.S. senator.

“David Catania brings an incredible amount of passion and commitment to his job,” the Victory Fund’s chief operating officer, Torey Carter, said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday.

“He helped guide Washington through a period of unprecedented growth and revitalization,” Carter said. “He is ideally positioned to lead a city with such a diverse and dynamic people.”

The Victory Fund also announced on Tuesday its endorsement of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in his race for the 8th District U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Ebbin is running in a hotly contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 10 in which two other openly gay candidates are running in an 11-candidate race.

“Adam Ebbin has distinguished himself as an outspoken voice of progressive values,” Carter said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “After ten years in the state legislature, he has remained committed to his goal of increasing equality and opportunity for those who are often left behind.”

Virginia State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out publicly last week in a column in the Washington Post, emerged as an unexpected ‘out’ candidate in the 8th District congressional race. Also running is gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who worked as a legal counsel for gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levine says he’s been out as gay since the 1980s.

As of this week, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 out LGBT candidates in national, state and local races and expects to endorse more than 200 out candidates across the country in the 2014 election cycle, the group says on its website.

Among those endorsed so far are at least nine gay or lesbian candidates running in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, including Catania and Ebbin.

But missing from its endorsement list so far are lesbian Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Country), who’s running for governor, and gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is running for re-election to a fifth term.

Spokesperson Thai reiterated the Victory Fund’s longstanding policy of not disclosing why the group has not endorsed a candidate. However, he said many more candidates are in the endorsement pipeline and the group could very well endorse candidates not on the list in the next few weeks and coming months.

He said the group’s criteria for endorsing any candidate, as posted on the website, include a demonstration that the candidate is viable and can show a path to victory; a record of support on LGBT rights; and the completion of a detailed application seeking an endorsement. Thai said an endorsement for a prior election doesn’t carry over to the next election and all incumbents must re-apply each time they run.

Graham couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if he applied for an endorsement in his Council race.

The Mizeur for governor campaign didn’t say specifically whether the campaign formally applied for a Victory Fund endorsement.

“We are in close communication with the Victory Fund and we would welcome their support,” campaign spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz told the Blade.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed development, Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County), one of eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly, announced last month that he is not running for re-election to that position. Instead, Murphy said he decided to run for president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, a position equivalent to a county executive.

“Whether you’re a state legislator or a county commissioner president, it’s all about the quality of life for all people,” Murphy said in a Feb. 3 statement. “I’ve always been accessible and responsive as a delegate, and I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve all our residents with the same enthusiasm and dedication.”

As a candidate for governor, Mizeur is giving up her seat in the House of Delegates. Records with the state board of elections show that she did not file for re-election to her delegate post prior to the filing deadline of Feb. 25. The election board lists Mizeur as an “active” candidate for governor in the June 24 Maryland primary.

The departure of Mizeur and Murphy from the House of Delegates would lower the number of out gay or lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly from eight – the highest in the nation for a state legislature – to six if all six remaining lawmakers are re-elected this year.

The others running for re-election are State Sen. Richard Madelano (D-Montgomery County) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County).

All except Kaiser have been endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Other out gay or lesbian candidates in Maryland that have received the Victory Fund’s endorsement this year are Evan Glass, Montgomery County Council; Byron Macfarlane, Howard County Register of Wills; and Kevin Walling, Maryland House of Delegates, Montgomery County.

Walling is running in a different district than that of Mizeur and Kaiser’s districts in Montgomery County.


After Va. race, I’m not going anywhere

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

Mark Levine (Photo courtesy of Mark Levine)


As someone who has worked both inside and outside of government, I know that politicians and activists often cannot achieve their goals without each other. Martin Luther King needed Lyndon Johnson to get civil rights laws passed.

I was hoping to be one of the rare cases of an activist who becomes a politician, like Harvey Milk. But I also know how to work the conventional route. Activists like me begin battles like marriage equality at a time when others consider them impossible. We work hard to change public opinion. And then we pass the baton to established politicians, who carry on the movement once it’s politically safe for them to do so.

Last week, I congratulated Don Beyer on his victory in the U.S. House race from Virgina’s 8th congressional district. I had pushed Don (and all the candidates in the election) to adopt some strongly progressive positions. To my delight, Don (and most of the others) did so. So now, as I resume my former role as political activist, legislation-drafter, and talk-radio/TV pundit, I will help him follow through. I have every confidence Don will carry out the “proven, principled, progressive” policies he advocated during the campaign, including measures to preserve and extend LGBT equality.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to realize how far we have come. In last week’s election, I was one of two openly gay men running (after a third left the race). Being openly gay was not an issue for us; if anything, it was an asset in the race. Not just Don, but all of the Democratic candidates accepted marriage equality, and all did so breezily as if second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian Americans had always been inconceivable.

Meanwhile, having pushed hard at the turn of the millennium to get the marriage-equality boulder off the cliff against what-was-then-impossible odds, I will resume my fight on other battles that Democrats still consider impossible today: universal health care, meaningful gun regulation, college affordability, reducing the threat of climate change and decreasing the power of big money in politics.

I look forward to working with Don Beyer as my next congressman. I’ll continue to work as a pundit to make the impossible conceivable, and then as a lawyer to draft legislation to make it achievable. It’s what I’ve done for more than 20 years. I can help Don Beyer achieve his stated goals, just as I’ve helped politicians before him. And as I told Don last week, I’m not going anywhere.

Mark Levine is an activist and former candidate for the U.S. House from Virginia’s 8th congressional district.


Mark Herring: Va. should be on ‘right side of history’

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

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

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told the Washington Blade on Thursday he decided not to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban because he wants to ensure the commonwealth is on “the right side of history.”

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

Herring spoke with the Blade hours after he declared Virginia’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage unconstitutional. His office subsequently filed an official notification with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that said the commonwealth’s position in the case that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley filed last year has changed.

“Having duly exercised his independent constitutional judgment, the attorney general has concluded that Virginia’s laws denying the right to marry to same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” reads the aforementioned document.

Herring told the Blade he feels that Virginians can feel proud of the role their state played in the country’s founding. He said, however, the state was on the “wrong side” of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that struck down the commonwealth’s interracial marriage ban and other landmark civil rights cases.

“We’re not going to be on the wrong side of the law this time,” said Herring.

Herring in 2006 voted against same-sex marriage while in the Virginia Senate. Voters later that year approved the gay nuptials ban by a 57-43 percent margin.

“I was speaking out against forms of discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, but I did not support marriage equality at that time and I was wrong for that,” Herring told the Blade. “Almost immediately after that I saw how that vote and how that measure really hurt a lot of people and that it was very painful for a lot of people.”

Herring said he saw the issue “very differently” after talking with his family, constituents, friends and neighbors. He added his religion that originally prompted him to oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples helped further shape his position.

“It takes me to a more equal place and a better place,” said Herring. “I wouldn’t want the state telling my son or my daughter who they can and cannot marry.”

A poll the Human Rights Campaign commissioned last June found 55 percent of Virginians support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

HRC President Chad Griffin, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga and state Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) are among those who applauded Herring’s announcement. Republicans and social conservatives blasted the former state senator from Loudoun County.

“If Mark Herring doesn’t want to defend this case, he should resign and let the General Assembly appoint someone who will,” said Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia. “Mark Herring owes the people of Virginia no less.”

House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford County) said Herring’s announcement sets a “dangerous precedent” with “regard to the rule of law.” National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown urged Virginia lawmakers to impeach the attorney general.

“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. “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.”

Herring’s predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli, vehemently opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples while in office. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who lost to Herring in last year’s attorney general race by fewer than than 1,000 votes, also did not support gay nuptials.

“I’m less focused on trying to draw a contrast with my predecessor,” Herring told the Blade when asked to comment on Cuccinelli’s opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians. “I am just making sure I get the law right and fulfill my duties as attorney general as best I can and make sure that we come out on the correct side of this legal case.”

The ACLU, 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. The first hearing in this case is expected to take place in the coming months.


Lawyer: Va. marriage ban necessary for ‘procreation’

Josh Duggar, Victoria Cobb, Family Foundation of Virginia, Allison Howard, Concerned Women for America, E.W. Jackson, Norfolk, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

A lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom argues in a brief submitted to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is necessary for “procreation.” (Photo courtesy of the Family Foundation of Virginia)

A lawyer for an anti-gay legal group said in a brief filed with a federal appeals court on March 28 that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is necessary for the “procreation” of children.

“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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg.

Babione argued that U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen “sought to discredit these procreation- and child-focused purposes for marriage” in her Feb. 13 ruling that struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Plaintiffs ask this court to use the law’s power to redefine the institution of marriage,” said Babione. “That redefinition would transform marriage in the public consciousness from a gendered to a genderless institution – a conversation that would be swift and unalterable, the gendered institution having been declared unconstitutional.”

Babione also cites the Witherspoon Institute in his brief to make the argument that it is “best for a child to be reared by his or her own mother and father.” The New Jersey-based conservative think tank largely funded Mark Regnerus’ study on the issue that a federal judge earlier this month dismissed as “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration” in his ruling that struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Genderless marriage communicates that marriage exists primarily for the government to approve emotional or romantic bonds, because those sorts of bonds (and not sexual conduct of the type that creates children) would be the prominent feature shared by the couples who marry,” said Babione.

David B. Oakley, who represents Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, in the case, said in a separate brief he filed with the federal appeals court on March 28 that Allen “began her opinion with the misconception that Virginia’s definition of marriage is solely based upon prejudice and animus towards gay and lesbian couples.” She opened her ruling with a quote from Mildred Loving, whose challenge of Virginia’s interracial marriage ban prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967.

Oakley further argued Schaefer and others who issue marriage licenses would “face exposure to additional lawsuits” from those denied them if the 4th Circuit upholds Allen’s ruling.

“Same-sex marriage proponents want to open the door of marriage for their benefit and then slam it shut behind them,” wrote Oakley. “It will not be long before other groups come knocking.”

Court records indicate the Family Research Council on March 26 sought to file an amicus brief in the Bostic case, but the federal appeals court blocked it as “premature.” The Washington Blade was unable to immediately obtain a copy of the filing.

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 – who 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.

The federal appeals court on May 12 is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Bostic case.

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.

Briefs from the lawyers who are representing the plaintiffs are due to the court on April 11.

“Our attorneys will review the briefs from the clerks and will respond as appropriate in the brief the commonwealth will file by the April 11 deadline,” Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly told the Blade.