On Thursday, lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates took the first step in a long, complicated process of repealing a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits two people of the same gender from marrying.
Approved in 2006, the Marshall-Newman Amendment’s prohibition on same-sex marriage is no longer enforced in the commonwealth, ever since a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2015, respectively, overturned a law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and declared all remaining bans on same-sex nuptials unconstitutional.
However, due to Virginia’s complicated legal framework — and the fact that the ban was a constitutional amendment, rather than a simple statute — eliminating Marshall-Newman from the state’s constitution requires having a pro-LGBTQ majority in both legislative chambers that will approve a bill to repeal the amendment, followed by an election, after which a different legislature must pass the exact same bill. If approved, the proposal then goes on the general election ballot where voters must approve it.
The Democratic-controlled House of Delegates voted 60-33 to overturn the Marshall-Newman Amendment, with seven Republicans voting for repeal along with most of the Democratic caucus. Republicans voting in favor of the repeal were Delegates John Avoli (Staunton), Rob Bloxom (Mappsville), Carrie Coyner (Chesterfield), Glenn Davis (Virginia Beach), Keith Hodges (Urbanna), Danny Marshall (Danville), and Roxann Robinson (Chesterfield).
Seven delegates were absent or did not vote, including Delegates Clint Jenkins (D-Suffolk), who typically opposes LGBTQ rights bills, Roz Tyler (D-Jarratt), and William Wampler (R-Abingdon), a first-term delegate who has generally been more friendly towards the LGBTQ community.
The joint resolution has yet to be voted upon by the Virginia Senate, where Democrats hold a much narrower 21-19 edge over Republicans. A similar resolution by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) passed the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee by a 9-4-2 vote, with only one Republican voting in favor of the repeal.
In addition to their narrow edge, Senate Democrats are also not as reliably pro-LGBTQ as their House counterparts. If the resolution passes the Senate this year, full repeal of the Marshall-Newman amendment likely only occurs if Democrats retain their hold on the governorship and both legislative chambers following this fall’s elections, and the proposal would still be subject to a public vote.
See also: Russian voters approve constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the state’s first out transgender delegate, tweeted the results of the vote, comparing it to the margins that the Marshall-Newman Amendment initially passed by on its first reading 16 years ago.
“Marriage equality votes in the Virginia House of Delegates, first reference:
“2005: Vote 79-17 to ban marriage equality in the Constitution of Virginia. 2021: Vote 60-33 to affirm marriage equality in the Constitution of Virginia. Change is good.”
Marriage equality votes in the Virginia House of Delegates, first reference:
2005: Vote 79-17 to ban marriage equality in the Constitution of Virginia.
2021: Vote 60-33 to affirm marriage equality in the Constitution of Virginia.
Change is good. 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/tMgMqtg8SF
— Del. Danica Roem (@pwcdanica) February 4, 2021
Roem also offered praise to five lawmakers — Delegates Ken Plum (D-Reston), Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), Vivian Watts (D-Annandale), Mark Sickles (D-Franconia) and Ebbin (D-Alexandria), at the time a delegate, who all voted against the House bill when it first came up in 2005.
“They did the right thing when it wasn’t popular,” Roem noted.
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