Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can Gay Marriage Pass in Virginia

Last month, New York became the sixth (and largest) U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. This got me thinking about whether or not gay marriage could pass in Virginia. Although I’ve now lived in Virginia for nearly 10 years, I admit that I’m not an expert in Virginia politics. Actually, I take that back. I know that there is a one-term limit for the Governor, meaning that the Legislature has all power. In addition, Northern Virginia seems to be a separate state from the rest of Virginia. There are always complaints about traffic in Northern Virginia and how Richmond doesn’t contribute as much money to transportation issues here as they should.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I asked people who truly know Virginia politics whether they think gay marriage could pass in Virginia. I didn’t ask them to share their personal beliefs; just realistic thoughts about gay marriage in Virginia. Enjoy (and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section)!

Jim - Bacon's Rebellion

The chances are pretty slim that Virginia will approve gay marriage any time soon. As long as we have a socially conservative Republican governor, an even more socially conservative attorney general, and a Republican House of Delegates packed with social conservatives, there is zero chance of gay marriage legislation being enacted. I question whether such a bill could make it through the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Times are changing, though, and as the younger generation, which is far more accepting of gays, replaces the older generation with traditional values, we’ll see a change in attitude. But it will take another 10 years at least.

Doug - Below the Beltway

To answer your question, legalizing gay marriage in Virginia is going to be difficult. It cannot be done the way New York did it because, in 2006 Virginia passed a Constitutional Amendment that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman only and forbade the creation of any legal relationships for homosexuals that resemble marriage (meaning no civil unions).

Absent court action changing this would require another Constitutional Amendment, which would have to be approved by majorities in both houses of the legislature and then approved via a ballot initiative.

Miles - The Green Miles

Virginia passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage several years ago and it would take a long process to repeal. A recent poll showed Virginians moving in the right direction on the issue, but frankly we as Democrats need to do more to make the case. In particular I wish Virginia's Democratic leaders would vocally get behind repealing the ban and replacing it with equal rights for all Virginians.

Krystle - Crystal Clear Conservative

It is always nice to find another Steelers fan in the Virginia blogosphere

As for your inquiry on gay marriage, Virginia will not pass legislation to approve gay marriage. In 2006, Virginia had an amendment on the ballot to add a constitutional amendment to approve marriage as being between one man and one woman. Voters approved this amendment overwhelmingly. 57 percent voted in favor of the amendment, while 42.9 percent voted against it. [Source]

Loudoun Insider - Too Conservative

No way it could pass in Virginia anytime soon.

VA Blogger - (also of) Too Conservative

Not only can it happen, but it will happen, I'd guess in the next 20 years. Even if Virginia is among the last states to enact it, this is much more of a generational issue than an ideological issue.

Brian - Common Sense (He is also running for Delegate in Virginia's 37th district)

I will try and not let my lingering anger over the Pirates beating the Orioles in 79 influence my answers. :)

To answer your question, I think it is unlikely that a change in the gay marriage laws in Virginia could happen in the near future, as we saw in New York. New York's biggest issue was convincing a number of gay marriage opponents in their State Senate to switch their vote against gay marriage in favor of it. That's just pure lobbying. If I recall correctly, New York's Senate defeated a prior gay marriage bill in 2009. The gay marriage supporters were able to lobby effectively to get members to change their votes. And as New York didn't have a state constitutional amendment defining marriage, all they needed - in addition to the Governor and the Assembly, both already supporting - was a bill passed.

It's much, much harder in Virginia given how our marriage laws operate. In 2006, the Virginia State Constitution was amended to bar gay marriage and to prohibit the creation of civil unions or other marriage equivalent relationships. Constitutional amendments are pretty difficult to achieve in Virginia - in order to pass, the amendment must be passed by two separate General Assemblies - meaning once in one, then again after an election has intervened - and then it goes up for a referendum vote of the entire Commonwealth. The 2006 amendment passed on a 57%-42% vote in a high turn-out year (over 52% turnout - the highest we've seen in a non-presidential year, and that was also the same year Democrats took back the U.S. House of Representatives).

So, in order to repeal the 2006 marriage amendment, the General Assembly elected in 2011 would have to vote once to repeal it. Then the GA elected in 2013 would have to vote again to repeal it. At that point it would be put on the ballot, probably for the 2014 election for a statewide referendum.

That's a heavy lift.

The Marshall Newman amendment (the marriage amendment) had bipartisan support in both Houses of the General Assembly back in 2004 and 2006. Given that the latest polling I saw still has a majority of Virginians opposing gay marriage, I don't expect to see the amendment repealed anytime in the near future.

Joel - Virginia Beach Progressives

Recognition of gay marriage is prohibited in Virginia. In 2006, the General Assembly passed a ballot referendum that sent the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the voters. 57% of Virginia voters voted for the amendment, which prohibits recognition of gay marriage in Virginia.

The process for repealing Marshall-Newman requires that the General Assembly pass a ballot referendum twice with an election in between the two sessions, and then the voters must approve.

The current composition of Virginia's House of Delegates makes passage of a Marshall-Newman appeal very improbable, as conservative Republicans have control of that house. Democrats have a very slim majority in the Senate currently, and Democrats are focused on keeping that majority, with any House pick-ups being secondary. All this makes, for a very difficult, and unlikely, uphill climb for those wanting to make gay marriage legal in Virginia.

The good news is that Virginian's are shifting on this issue, like many states. An RTD poll in May found that 43% of Virginians are opposed to gay marriage, and 47% supporting gay marriage. The RTD article also sites national polls showing a 13% shift in opinion since 2006 regarding gay marriage, where 53% of the nation supports it.

While New York did have Republicans siding in favor of gay marriage, Republicans in New York aren't the same kind of Republicans in Virginia. I don't think we'll see any real movement toward the repeal of Marshall-Newman unless Democrats win control of both houses long enough to have two votes on the repeal.

My take isn't much different than the others above. Governor Bob McDonnell certainly isn't going to touch gay marriage. His website states that he "believes marriage is the union between one man and one woman. As a legislator, Bob McDonnell was chief sponsor and author of a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage (Chief Patron, HJ 187, 2004)." In addition, McDonnell celebrates being named "Legislator of the Year" twice by the Virginia Family Foundation. Here are the initiatives of the Family Foundation:

•Opposing Domestic Partner Benefits | Homosexual advocates have worked to diminish the status of marriage by providing marriage benefits to any relationship. Already, private companies in Virginia can do so. Despite a marriage amendment that prohibits this, efforts are underway to expand this to state and local government.

•Opposing Homosexual Behavior as a Protected Class | Every year there are efforts in Virginia to add homosexuality to the list of protected classes in non-discrimination laws. This is not only unnecessary, as no evidence of discrimination exists, but has potential negative ramifications on religious liberty.

Wow. There's no evidence of discrimination? I feel like I'm already giving the Family Foundation more exposure than necessary, so I'll just stop. Meanwhile, although gay marriage isn't likely to happen soon in Virginia, I live in one of the states where marriage between first cousins is still legal. Way to go Virginia!

Thanks to all of the bloggers who provided thoughtful answers to my question. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, please make sure to visit each of these well-written blogs.

Completely unrelated to the gay marriage topic, I love the fact that my blog can't get away from Pittsburgh sports as two replies included mentions of the Pirates and Steelers!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this very informative ( if slightly depressing) blog on gay marriage in Virginia. I really appreciate your efforts!

Dave Tepper said...

I think the only possible way same-sex marriage would become legal in Virginia is through a court finding it unconstitutional, and even that would be difficult.

The court rulings in Massachusetts, Iowa, et al., were all based on interpretations of the state constitutions of their respective states. The Va. Supreme Court, however, has made it clear that the state equivalents of the equal protection and due process clauses are exactly co-extensive with the federal constitution's, and in fact, uses federal jurisprudence to interpret the state constitution.

As a practical matter, then, Va. will only have same-sex marriage when the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes same-sex couples as deserving equal protection. Given the current court's makeup, I wouldn't hold my breath that that'll happen.