RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia House Democrats tried to revive constitutional amendments on same-sex marriage and voting rights that Republicans blocked earlier this week, but GOP lawmakers used their majority power in the chamber to deny the effort.
The proposed amendments would have allowed voters to decide whether to remove the state’s now-defunct constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and automatically restore the voting rights of people convicted of felonies once they are released.
Both resolutions were rejected Tuesday along partisan lines by a Virginia House subcommittee. Virginia Democrats spoke in support of the proposals Thursday during a rally on Capitol Square and a press conference, calling on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to back their effort.
“We are confident that if he [Gov. Youngkin] were to weigh in and make his support known, it would help get the House Republicans the support they need to move forward,” Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) said Thursday. “The power should be in the people’s hands.”
The next day, Republicans on the House Privileges And Elections Committee blocked Democrats from bringing the amendments before the full committee.
“These votes that you see today, these are not just procedural votes,” Del. Candi Mundon King (D-Prince William) said Friday. “These are votes on what our principles are, who our priorities are and who we are as a commonwealth. And who we want to have access to vote, marry who they love and feel embraced by our commonwealth.”
On a 11-10 party-line vote, the committee passed by a motion from Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) that would have added the pending constitutional amendments to the committee’s agenda for the day.
The 11 Republican state delegates who voted to reject Del. Krizek’s effort included Del. Margaret B. Ransone (Westmoreland); Del. Israel D. O’Quinn (Washington County); Del. Les R. Adams (Pittsylvania); Del. James A. Leftwich (Chesapeake); Del. Christopher T. Head (Botetourt); Del. John J. McGuire, III (Goochland); Del. Robert S. Bloxom, Jr. (Accomack); Del. Wren M. Williams (Patrick); and Del. Kim A. Taylor (Chesterfield).
There is still another option to get the proposals to the floor of the House of Delegates, although it appears unlikely.
Democrats would first need to request a change to the rules of the House, which needs a two-thirds vote in the chamber, to allow resolutions to be discharged from the committee to the floor. Under the current rule, only bills can be discharged from the committee.
Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) has already introduced a resolution for such a rule change this year, but House Republicans killed that effort in February. Del. Simon has since brought forward a similar resolution but it has not yet gone before the House.
With Republicans spiking Del. Simon’s first attempt, his second push for a rule change is not expected to pass. If it were to, both constitutional amendments would get a full floor vote in the House. The Virginia Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, already passed both proposals.
The Virginia General Assembly approved both proposals last year, but a second vote was needed to put referendums on the ballot in November. Constitutional amendments need to pass in the same form each year, so lawmakers cannot make changes to them.
In Virginia, those who are convicted of a felony automatically lose their right to vote. Under the current system, the governor is the only way someone with a felony on their record could regain their voting rights.
The resolution on the same-sex marriage ban would have let Virginia voters decide whether to repeal a provision in the state Constitution that defines marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.”
In 2006, Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. A panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that ban in 2014 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution in 2015.
Not passing the resolution will keep the outdated language in the Virginia Constitution, but it does not impact the legality of gay marriage.
While House Republicans have blocked both measures this year, Virginia Democrats had full control of the state government from 2020 to before the 2022 session convened. If the resolutions don’t pass the House, it will keep the referendums from the ballot until at least 2024.
A spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin did not respond to a request for comment.