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A group of about 50 people, led by the pro-LGBT group People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), gathered behind the Loudoun County Circuit Courthouse in Leesburg, Va., at noon Thursday, March 20, to demonstrate their support for marriage equality and call for changes to Virginia laws that prohibit any recognition of same-sex relationships.
While Virginia has a statutory ban on same-sex marriages, at issue in recent weeks has been its 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment, known as the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which prohibits legal same-sex marriages from being performed, denies recognition of out-of-state legal same-sex marriages, and prohibits the creation of any ”legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.” On Feb. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled in the case of Bostic v. Rainey that the amendment was unconstitutional, but granted a stay pending an appeal of her ruling, expected to be heard in May by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
POFEV, which has emerged as one of the chief pro-LGBT groups advocating on behalf of LGBT rights in the commonwealth, previously held 10 similar ”Witness for Love” demonstrations throughout the state on Valentine’s Day, and had planned to do so in Leesburg, but was forced to cancel that rally – as well as 12 others – due to inclement weather.
POFEV released a statement advising that its Loudoun County group had changed the date of the rally to March 20, the first day of spring, because ”they see a massive melting, a spring thaw, of prejudice in Virginia and rapidly growing support for marriage equality.” Thursday’s event brought together local activists, LGBT-supportive clergy, and members of affirming Christian, Jewish and Unitarian congregations.
”This may not be Valentine’s Day, but it is a very special day, because you cared enough to show up and raise your witness in the public square,” the Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, president and CEO of POFEV, told the crowd gathered at the courthouse. ”There are so many more, a million and more and counting, standing with you, all over Virginia. You are helping us bring true and deep change to Virginia, a transformation from bottom to top.”
The event featured speeches by a rabbi, a Christian minister and a Unitarian minister reflecting on their respective religious traditions and their role in the movement for equality. All three religious leaders, whose denominations allow same-sex marriages, pointed out that Virginia’s current law actually infringes on their religious liberty by preventing them from signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples they wish to marry.
The Rev. Phyllis Hubbell, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun, spoke about the changes in Virginians’ attitudes toward LGBT rights and particularly on same-sex marriage over the past 20 years, from the time she first blessed a same-sex union. Hubbell urged the crowd to ”stand on the side of love.”
Also attending and speaking at the rally was state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun, Fairfax counties), a pro-LGBT ally whose election to the General Assembly in January tipped the balance of power in the Virginia Senate toward Democrats.
In an interview with Metro Weekly following the rally, Gorsline linked the religious leaders’ advocacy on behalf of LGBT rights, Wexton’s presence at the rally, and POFEV’s long-term goal of starting conversations with people of faith all across Virginia to show it’s possible to be religious and support LGBT equality. Gorsline added that POFEV will continue various public appearances and events geared at building momentum for next year’s General Assembly session, when POFEV hopes legislators will vote on the first of two separate votes required to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which Gorsline called ”a stain on our state.”
”The Supreme Court cannot remove the amendment,” Gorsline said. ”The General Assembly has to vote to put it on the ballot, and only then can the people vote to repeal the amendment.”
POFEV is currently focused on carrying out the remaining ”Witness for Love” rallies that were canceled on Valentine’s Day. The group held one March 5 in Charlottesville, and plans to hold the rescheduled Arlington rally April 25.