Metro Weekly

Virginia House and Senate pass separate bills to repeal laws banning marriage equality

Fourteen Republicans cross party lines to eliminate now-defunct prohibition on same-sex marriage

Wedding rings – Photo: Sandy Millar, via Unsplash.

Virginia lawmakers in the House of Delegates and Senate have passed bills to repeal statutory prohibitions preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

The ban on same-sex marriages was overturned in February 2014, when Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled that both the 1975 statute and the commonwealth’s Marshall-Newman Amendment, which was approved by voters in 2006, were unconstitutional.

Wright Allen’s decision was eventually upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, paving the way for same-sex marriages in Virginia.

That decision was later cemented in place in June 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all existing bans on marriage equality in the United States.

Even though the statute was technically unenforceable, Republicans in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly for the past four legislative sessions continued to block bills to repeal the statute. (The Marshall-Newman Amendment must undergo a much longer, more intricate process to be struck permanently from the Virginia Constitution.)

But after Democrats seized control of the General Assembly following last November’s elections, it became apparent that such bills had a good chance of passing.

In the Senate, the repeal bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), passed 25-13, with the support of 20 of the chamber’s 21 Democrats and five of the seven Republicans who represent suburban areas voting to remove the now-defunct ban from the Code of Virginia.

Sens. Lionel Spruill (D-Chesapeake) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City)  did not vote.

In the House of Delegates, a similar bill sponsored by newly-elected Del. Nancy Guy (D-Virginia Beach) passed overwhelmingly, by a 63-34 margin. Every Democrat except Del. Clint Jenkins (D-Suffolk) voted to remove the ban, with nine Republicans voting to eliminate it.

Yet unlike their Senate counterparts, who hailed from suburban areas, the bulk of House Republicans voting to lift the ban hailed from more rural districts.

The bills will now head to the opposite chamber and are expected to be approved.

Democratic leaders may choose to combine the bills, which contain almost identical language, into a single bill that will likely pass both chambers before being signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Read more:

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Openly gay D.C. Council candidate earns Working Families Party endorsement

Mike Bloomberg unveils plans for how he’d promote LGBTQ equality as president

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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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