Metro Weekly

Virginians celebrate equality advances at annual gala

Equality Virginia's annual Commonwealth Dinner provided a rare opportunity to celebrate LGBT progress

Va. Attorney General Mark Herring addresses Equality Virginia's 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner (April 2015), surrounded by the lead plaintiffs in the cases that helped overturn Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

Va. Attorney General Mark Herring – Photography by Ward Morrison/Metro Weekly

More than 1,000 people packed the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Saturday, April 18 for Equality Virginia’s 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner. The evening was held to celebrate the gains made after the legalization of marriage equality last October.

Guests of honor at the dinner included the four plaintiff couples in the cases that challenged Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, leading to its eventual overturn and making the commonwealth the first Southern state to allow the freedom to marry.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine at Equality Virginia's 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner (April 2015).

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (Ward Morrison/Metro Weekly)

Additionally, several major politicians attended — including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D) — alongside a slew of delegates and senators who have championed LGBT rights in the General Assembly.

“Countless Virginians have been working to bring the freedom to marry to the commonwealth for decades, and finally achieving it is a huge part of Virginia’s history,” said Equality Virginia executive director James Parrish. “From Attorney General Herring’s historic decision to side with the plaintiffs, to Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s ruling the day before Valentine’s Day, to the rallies that so many Virginians participated in, this journey has been phenomenal and deserves to be celebrated.”

In a speech that reflected on Virginia’s history with equality and its often regressive stance on LGBT rights, Senator Kaine voiced strong support for marriage equality. He expressed hope that the commonwealth was evolving in a more progressive direction and that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn several remaining state bans to ensure same-sex couples across the nation would be able to wed. The Supreme Court is slated to hear four upcoming cases challenging remaining marriage bans on April 28.

“With legal victories protecting marriage equality in 37 states across the country, we are at a historic juncture in our efforts to ensure all loving couples have the freedom to marry,” Kaine said. “The Fourth Circuit Court made the right decision in striking down Virginia’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage last year and I urge the Supreme Court to follow suit with a ruling in support of full marriage equality.”

The dinner also honored people and organizations working to advance LGBT rights in the commonwealth. OUTstanding Virginians awards were given to seven individuals and one organization, Mothers and Others, for their efforts.

Hailing victories won by the LGBT community and its allies as the result of a “generations-long fight,” Parrish expressed optimism for the future.

“The opportunity for a full lived and legal equality has never been greater,” he said. “I can see a future, very near, where our transgender friends can get access to the healthcare they need, where our LGBT youth in schools are safe, where no one is fired for who they love or how they identify.”

In a Facebook post following the event, Mark Herring, the state’s Attorney General and an instrumental figure in the marriage fight, said he was honored to take part in the evening.

“I shared the stage with the four plaintiff couples who challenged Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage,” Herring wrote. “Their strength, their bravery and their courage have been a source of inspiration for thousands and thousands of Virginians, including myself.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” he continued, “but there is much more work yet to be done to ensure that Virginia is open and welcoming to all who call our Commonwealth home.”

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

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