Virginians of various faith communities hoping to extend equal rights to LGBT people will host 23 demonstrations at county courthouses across the commonwealth on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, to call attention to Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage and to begin a yearlong process of engaging Virginians to pressure General Assembly lawmakers to allow debate on a proposed repeal of that ban.
The group, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), has been organizing such Valentine’s Day ”Witness for Love!” demonstrations for 10 years, beginning initially in Richmond and later extending to other jurisdictions across the state, including Arlington, Fairfax, Winchester and Norfolk. The 23 events will occur at various times throughout the day in all regions of the state. A schedule of events can be found on POFEV’s website, pofev.org.
The Rev. Robin Gorsline, president and CEO of POFEV, says that Friday’s events are intended to raise awareness of the shifting opinions and attitudes toward LGBT people in Virginia and across the country, not just relating to marriage but to other LGBT issues such as nondiscrimination in employment, housing and adoption. Gorsline’s group hopes to have couples apply for marriage licenses with county clerks, knowing they will be denied due to Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage, as well as the Marshall-Newman Amendment, the state’s constitutional ban on recognizing any domestic relationship between two people of the same sex.
”We realize they won’t break ranks, because to do so is against the law,” says Gorsline. ”But we’re going to have people go, regardless of whether the local clerk supports or opposes marriage equality. The demonstration will be civil and respectful, and, hopefully, people will have a chance to have a discussion with the clerks in the process.”
After the couples are denied the right to marry in their particular locales, they are expected to join nearby crowds featuring speeches, songs and prayers in support of marriage equality.
Of particular interest is one such demonstration scheduled for Prince William County at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Gorsline says POFEV was not initially involved in that event, but later joined with the group’s Prince William peers, the Bull Run Unitarian Universalists, who had already begun planning an independent action for marriage equality.
The Bull Run Unitarian Universalists, led by the Rev. Greg Ward, first came up with the idea to have couples apply for marriage licenses after the county’s court clerk, Michele McQuigg, intervened on behalf of same-sex marriage opponents in the ongoing Bostic v. Rainey court case challenging the constitutionality of the Marshall-Newman Amendment.
”There was no suit brought from Prince William County, Manassas, or Manassas Park; her active involvement in this issue as an ‘intervenor’ is not only misguided, but needlessly hurtful and divisive,” the Unitarian Universalists advised in an email sent to supporters.
Gorsline says the Valentine’s Day demonstrations will be the first in a series of events designed to create momentum for a yearlong campaign aimed at the group’s eventual goal of having a full debate over repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment during the 2015 legislative session.
”We want to have a debate on the floor of both chambers of the General Assembly, not just in some backroom committee,” says Gorsline, adding he’d like to see the discussion move beyond Richmond, as well. ”We have organizers on the ground that are going to urge people to talk to their legislators. They don’t even have to necessarily support marriage equality, but we’re hoping they’ll have a debate over putting it on the ballot for the people to decide.”
While he acknowledges that the upcoming year will be an ”uphill battle” in getting the General Assembly to listen to his group’s concerns, Gorsline is not dissuaded. Rather, he has faith.
”People are created in the image of God,” Gorsline insists. ”So to treat them differently is not only unconstitutional, but ungodly.”