RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- An effort to protect same-sex marriage by starting the process of removing a defunct ban from the books was shot down in the Virginia General Assembly for the second year in a row.
It’s one of several proposals to change the State Constitution that died Friday morning at the hands of a GOP-led panel. In a usual move, a new subcommittee was created specifically to consider these measures, featuring four of the most powerful leaders in the House Republican Caucus and just one Democrat, in the final days of the 2023 session.
“Extreme elements of the party are salivating at the opportunity to start taking these freedoms away,” Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) said in a floor speech after the party-line vote.
Same-sex marriage is currently legal nationwide but LGBTQ+ advocates fear this currently unenforceable ban could become a problem if the conservative majority on the Supreme Court reverses its course on federal marriage equality, as it did with abortion rights.
“It’s already the law of the land. The Supreme Court ruled. No one’s stopping anybody from getting married in Virginia. It’s just, you know, something that I don’t feel we need in the Constitution,” said House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), who chaired the subcommittee, in an interview after the vote. “I mean, I don’t think there’s any anxiety. I just think that’s a false flag.”
But Todd Gathje, who opposed same-sex marriage in his testimony on behalf of The Family Foundation, specifically brought up the court’s recent pivot. He said marriage should be between one man and one woman only.
“The court is clearly in a position to reverse its erroneous 2015 decision, and if and when it does, Virginia’s Constitution should continue to reflect the truth about marriage,” Gathje said.
The proposal from Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Fairfax), which would’ve given voters the option to scrub the ban from the Constitution in a statewide ballot referendum, won bipartisan support in the Democrat-led Senate before meeting a swift death in the GOP-controlled House.
“It provides a fundamental dignity and equality to our family, friends, neighbors and to me,” said Ebbin, the first openly gay lawmaker elected to the General Assembly.
In a letter to House and Senate leadership in the General Assembly, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner urged state lawmakers to advance the constitutional amendment to complement bipartisan reform protecting same-sex marriage that recently passed in Congress.
“Although the Respect for Marriage Act provides full faith and credit for state-issued marriage licenses, the legislation does not require a state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Kaine and Warner wrote. “If Obergefell is overturned, then LGBTQ Virginians will likely lose the right to marry the person they love unless the General Assembly repeals the ban in Virginia’s constitution. Virginia’s circuit courts would be prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples due to the prohibition in the Commonwealth’s constitution.”
By creating a new subcommittee at the last minute to review Ebbin’s proposal and others, critics speculate the GOP was trying to shield more vulnerable members from retaliation in an election year where every seat in the General Assembly will be on the ballot. Others speculate they didn’t have enough votes in an existing subcommittee to kill the entirety of the agenda.
House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Garren Shipley said they “just had a lot of stuff.”
Republican Del. Tim Anderson introduced a similar proposal in the House that quietly died earlier this session because it was never put on the calendar for a vote.
Asked if some members of the House Republican Caucus wanted to avoid going on the record, Kilgore said, “I didn’t hear anybody within our caucus say that.”
In past interviews, Governor Glenn Youngkin has not explicitly expressed support for same-sex marriage but he has acknowledged it is currently “legally acceptable” in Virginia.