Metro Weekly

Virginia Senate Subcommittee Sticks by Gay Marriage Ban

Panel splits along party lines, recommends tabling three bills to repeal "unconstitutional" constitutional amendment

 Virginia Senate.jpg

Virginia Senate.jpg

A Virginia Senate subcommittee is unswayed in its opposition to marriage equality, even though same-sex marriages are being performed in the commonwealth, and the voter-approved ban on those nuptials has since been overturned after a federal judge declared in unconstitutional. 

The Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections split along party lines, 4-2, on a voice vote to recommend that the larger committee reject a trio of bills that would begin the process of repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment, Virginia’s 2006 constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, which was approved with 57 percent of the vote. Under Virginia law, a proposed constitutional amendment must successfully pass during two separate legislative sessions that are separated by an election. If approved in both sessions, often by different legislatures, the proposed change to the constitution must then be approved by a majority of voters via a ballot measure.

Similar measures have been introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon, Fort Hunt, Hybla Valley) and Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria, Belle Haven, Arlington). If those two measures also fail, as expected, the earliest chance that voters would have to repeal the amendment (assuming both the 2017 legislature and the newly elected 2018 legislature following the 2017 gubernatorial and House elections) would be during the 2018 midterms. 

The four senators who voted against the bills were Senators Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg, Appomattox, Farmville, Cumberland), Steve Martin (R-Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Amelia Court House), Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke, Salem, Christiansburg, Austinville) and Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, Louisa, Culpeper).  Senators Kenny Alexander (D-Norfolk, Chesapeake) and John Miller (D-Newport News, Williamsburg, Hampton) were supportive of the move to begin repealing the constitutional amendment. 

The subcommittee’s refusal to approve the repeal bills has no practical effect on same-sex marriage in the commonwealth, but is rather a “trophy” of sorts that conservative lawmakers can brandish to appeal to socially conservative groups, such as the Family Foundation of Virginia, which grades lawmakers on their votes and “pro-family” positions on a number of pieces of legislation that are considered by the General Assembly each legislative session.

After a federal district judge declared Virginia’s constitutional and statutory bans unconstitutional in February 2014, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in July. When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case in October, marriage equality went into effect in Virginia almost immediately, with Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) ordering state and local county officials to begin recognizing same-sex marriages and granting licenses to same-gender couples. 

Unlike in the House of Delegates, the Senate subcommittee’s rejection is not the last word on the bill, which is slated to go before the full 15-member committee at 4 p.m. Tuesday. In order to be successful, one Republican and all seven Democrats would have to vote to reject the subcommittee’s recommendation that the bill be tabled and vote to pass the bill out of committee. 

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