Sunday, June 23, 2013

Virginia Awaits Rulings on Gay Marriage

After its brilliance during the early days of the nation when Virginians such as Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Monroe and others put forth Enlightenment views and sought a separation of church and state, Virginia has pretty much been on a downward spiral ever since.  Discrimination and bigotry have been rampant as evidenced by "Massive Resistance" - public schools closed rather than admit blacks - to school desegregation, the infamy of Loving v. Virginia, and today's Marshall-Newman Amendment.    It's not a pretty recent legacy unless one is a white supremacist, fearful of modernity and/or a raging homophobe (the folks at The Family Foundation fall into all three categories).  Now, with the U. S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage likely to be released tomorrow, both sides of the battle lines are waiting with baited breath to see how the Court will rule.  A column in the Richmond Times Dispatch - not the most liberal of newspapers - looks at the waiting game.  Here are highlights:

Same-sex couples in Virginia and defenders of traditional unions between men and women are attentively looking to Washington this week, where the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce rulings on two cases that might fundamentally change the definition of marriage.

“If the court ruled that there was a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, then that would be of the same magnitude as Roe v. Wade,” said A.E. Dick Howard, professor of law at the University of Virginia.

But Howard said a broad ruling is unlikely.  “I have a feeling they will avoid the question of constitutionality. I would be amazed if there were five votes for that,” he said. “My guess is they would write a fairly narrow opinion, without finding some basic underlying right to same-sex marriage.”

Striking down DOMA would have implications for a whole range of federal benefits, he added. “I suppose all departments within the federal government would have to look at their particular regulations. That’s a massive undertaking.”  Same-sex couples in Virginia would benefit from the ruling — even without legal recognition of their marriage by the state — if one of the partners is a federal employee or receives federal benefits.

If the court declares Proposition 8 unconstitutional, it would affect only California law, Howard said. Virginian’s ban on same-sex marriage would remain intact.  “The Supreme Court decision is a huge one for us; it will determine if we will continue to live here in Virginia,” said gay-rights activist Judd Proctor, who resides with his husband, Brian Burns, in North Richmond. The couple met in 1995 and married in Massachusetts seven years ago.

While gay and lesbian couples in Virginia say this would be a step in the right direction, it likely would lead to few changes in the state.

“Same-sex couples who are married and living in one of the 12 freedom-to-marry states, or the District of Columbia, will be clearly eligible for the federal protections and responsibilities afforded all other married couples,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia Advocates.

“However, for those legally married same-sex couples, and widows and widowers, who live in a state like Virginia that discriminates against their marriages, access to all federal marital protections is less clear and will require some work,” Parrish said.

Sen. Ralph S. Northam of Norfolk, the Democratic nominee, said Thursday that if elected lieutenant governor, he would support a repeal of the 2006 amendment.  “There is no excuse to discriminate against Virginians based on whom they love or to stigmatize the children of same-sex couples as unequal because their parents cannot marry,” Northam said. “We must move beyond this divisive social agenda so Virginia can be a welcoming and inclusive place to raise a family and start a business.”

Barring overriding action by the U.S. Supreme Court, a repeal of the state amendment is unlikely anytime soon, no matter who moves into the Executive Mansion in January.  A state constitutional amendment must pass the state legislature twice — with an election for the House of Delegates in between — before the issue goes on the ballot for a statewide referendum.  Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has vowed to uphold the ban.

Absent a broad ruling by the Supreme Court, LGBT Virginians will continue to have a status of blacks during Virginia's period of rigid segregation.  We will clearly NOT be full citizens.  And I for one will continue to what our circumstances and look for the opportunity to leave Virginia.

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