The debate about same-sex marriages was dampened – and called into question – in 2015 with the landmark judgment of the Obergefell Supreme Court against Hodges. But even with the ratification of same-sex unions, which have been incorporated into national law, the discrimination against these unions remains anchored in the GOP platform – and in 30 national constitutions.
The state constitution of Virginia provides one of the strictest same-sex marriage prohibitions in the county. It’s far reaching and has been compared to a Jim Crow bill in a Washington Post op-ed. In 2014 a federal district court found the law unconstitutional; A federal appeals court agreed, and later that year the Supreme Court declined to review the decision to allow same-sex couples in Virginia to marry. The ban itself has not been enforceable for seven years. Still, it remains in the state’s constitution, a reminder of when 57 percent of Virginians voted for the law in 2006.
In the past decade, public opinion on same-sex issues has changed – both nationally and in the state of Virginia. About 70 percent of Americans and half of Republicans support same-sex marriage, according to a 2020 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. A 2017 survey by the same group found that 60 percent of Virginians supported it as well. After the Democrats took control of the Virginia legislature in 2019, lawmakers prioritized legalizing same-sex marriage in the state once and for all.
In February of this year, two bills were introduced – one in the Senate (SJ 270) and one in the State House (HJ 582) – to initiate the process of lifting the illegal prohibition of same-sex marriage in the Virginia Constitution. Both bills were passed but still met with significant opposition. Twelve Republicans voted against in the Senate and 33 Republicans voted “no” in the House of Representatives. Removing this unconstitutional law from Virginia’s Constitution would not change anything immediately, but it would ensure that same-sex marriages remain intact should the Obergefell Supreme Court overthrow. Even so, a majority of Virginia Republican lawmakers still voted against it. Perhaps these lawmakers want to repeal existing same-sex marriages and prohibit same-sex couples from marrying in the future. After all, that is what the ban would require in the absence of a federal court order rendering it inoperable. However, it is impossible to know for sure what these Republicans are thinking, as most of the GOP lawmakers in Virginia have been silent about their views on same-sex marriage.
I tried reaching out to all 45 GOP lawmakers in Virginia who voted against either House or Senate bills to try to understand their beliefs on the matter and their reasons for voting to maintain an outdated law . I have contacted and contacted all legislators by phone and email. A couple of times, instead of rolling it onto voicemail, an aide took the call and promised to forward my inquiries to the delegate, but I never heard back. I only received four responses in total. One was from Delegate Cole, who was very willing to speak, but midway through the conversation I realized I was talking to Joshua Cole, the Democrat who voted yes, not Mark Cole, the Republican who voted no . Delegate Wiley replied that he did not want to speak – but compared to the other radio silence I received, I still count that as an answer.
Delegate Nick Freitas and Delegate Buddy Fowler were the only ones who actually answered my questions. But both gave answers on the roundabout. “We have a situation where politicians argue about how the government should define marriage. Then there is me who just wants the government to get out of the business of marriage altogether. This resolution doesn’t do that, so I voted no, “Freitas wrote via email. He carefully avoided saying anything about his belief in same-sex marriage itself and made it more a matter of government. Fowler similarly defended his position, even claiming outright that he was not an anti-LGBTQ. “I am everything for civil unions. I am everything for people who love who they want to love, ”he said during a phone call. But he said he had a problem marking a same-sex union under the institution of marriage. “I believe that this institution was created by God. And its intention is to recognize the union of man and woman. It’s a marriage, ”said Fowler.
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The many votes will not uphold the Virginia same-sex marriage ban. But the silence of Republicans, who vote no but crouch when asked to explain their votes, is a reminder that the GOP continues to have an obligation to ban same-sex marriages even if they don’t like to talk about it publicly. It’s easy to guess why Republican lawmakers would want to debate their position: at this point, enforcing the Virginia ban would mean breaking thousands of same-sex marriages and likely denying same-sex couples parental rights over their own children. The consequences would be terrible and inhumane, loving families would break up and children would be legally without parents. No wonder the Republicans refused to answer my questions.
To lift Virginia’s ban, lawmakers must vote to kill it again next year, then put it on the ballot for public vote in 2022. If the repeal is successful, Virginia will be one of only two states to have passed this reform. (Nevada passed a similar measure in November.) That doesn’t change the fact that it remains a state with 45 legislators who are believed to want to annul same-sex marriages but don’t even know – or even say – why.
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