Virginia House subcommittee kills bill to repeal gay-marriage ban

A Virginia House subcommittee Monday tabled a bill to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment, the 2006 amendment to the Virginia state constitution that banned any and all forms of same-sex relationship recognition, effectively killing the bill for at least three more years.

Under Virginia law, any amendment to the state constitution must be passed by a majority of members in both chambers. It then must be held over for a succeeding legislature after the next election, where it must garner a majority in both chambers. Then, it gets placed on the ballot for a referendum and is adopted if approved by a majority of the voters.

ScottSurovell.pngLGBT advocates and allies had hoped to pass the legislation in the 2013 session, prior to this year’s gubernatorial and House elections, where it could then be approved in 2014 and placed on the ballot during the congressional midterm elections. But the bill’s defeat means that supporters can’t bring a repeal initiative before the legislature until 2015, prior to that year’s Senate and House elections, whereupon it would need to be passed again in the 2016 legislative session and approved by a majority of voters in that year’s presidential election before taking effect.

The repeal bill, sponsored by Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax Co.) was referred to the Republican-dominated Committee on Privileges and Elections, whose chairman, Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) assigned it to the Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee, who voted to table the bill. No roll call was immediately available, but Republicans dominate the subcommittee 6-1.

Kevin Clay, a spokesman for the LGBT rights group Equality Virginia, said the organization was disappointed about the defeat of the bill.

“At Equality Virginia, we support relationship recognition for all couples,” Clay told Metro Weekly in an interview Monday afternoon. “Marriage equality has been a winning issue by ballot vote, and we’re discouraged that Virginia has not caught up to other states on this issue.”

Looking forward, Clay said the organization will be focusing its efforts on its biggest initiative, SB701, which would prohibit discrimination in public employment based on an individual’s sexual orientation, which is defined as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity and expression.

SB701 is currently before the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 8-7. With eight votes needed to pass, supporters hope to flip at least one Republican to vote to move the bill to the full Senate. Clay said Equality Virginia was particularly focusing on Sen. Walter Stosch (R-Henrico, Hanover counties), because in laying the groundwork for its grassroots lobbying campaign, Equality Virginia encountered a number of constituents living in Stosch’s district who support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

In addition, committee member Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Loudoun, Clarke, Fauquier, Stafford counties, Winchester) and Chairman Frank Ruff (R-Danville, Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties) both signed statements last year attesting to Equality Virginia that they already, in practice, do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring practices, which is what SB701 would do for Virginians seeking public employment. Sen. Stephen Martin (R-Chesterfield, Amelia counties) issued a general statement saying he would not discriminate in hiring but did not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity.

Clay said the committee is expected to vote on the legislation next week, where the members will then decide to pass or table the bill. If the bill is tabled, it can be brought up again at the end of the session, but such a possibility is highly unlikely, Clay said. 

Clay was hopeful of the chances of the bill in the Senate, particularly because of attempts by Equality Virginia to mobilize residents to lobby their legislators..

“We’re hearing from legislators that this is the most they’ve ever heard from their constituents about a nondiscrimination bill,” Clay told Metro Weekly.

[Photo: Del. Scott Surovell (Courtesy of the Virginia House of Delegates).]

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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