Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Indiana didn’t get the memo….

March 31st, 2015

…EQUALITY MEANS BUSINESS!

Less than a week ago, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that would give any person or any business in Indiana a license to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom.  The implications to gay and transgender people is clear. Another thing is clear too – the business community is not having it! Click here to see an info-graph that shows which businesses and other entities (including the states of Connecticut and Washington) are protesting the new discrimination law.

You’ve probably seen the photos of the massive protests, and have wondered, what can I do to stand in solidarity with the people who are protesting this awful law in Indiana? We have the answer – Ask your favorite businesses to join Equality Means Business!

Equality Means Business is a program that we have created in partnership with Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality.  Businesses that welcome LGBT employees and customers can join for free, and are highlighted on our online directory! 

While our situation is not as dire as it is in Indiana, Virginia doesn’t do much to protect LGBT people either.  For example, we have no law that says places of public accommodation (restaurants, shops, bars, hotels, theaters, pharmacies, doctor’s offices…the list goes on) must serve LGBT people.  We have no law to ensure that those who are LGBT are not fired just because of who they are. That’s why we need businesses in the commonwealth to stand up for fairness and equality here at home!

Governor Terry McAuliffe, who earlier this week wrote a letter to Indiana’s businesses, inviting them to come set up shop in Virginia, has been nothing but supportive of the LGBT community, but the majority in the General Assembly have continuously voted to keep discrimination against LGBT Virginians alive and well. With that in mind – it is time for the business community to take the lead.

If you are a community member or business owner who wants to make sure that Virginia’s businesses are welcome to LGBT people, check out our Equality Means Business page to see how you can be involved!

The simple and profound right to call each other family

March 10th, 2015

By Carol Schall
Plaintiff in the Bostic Case

Mary and I decided in August of 2013 to join Tim Bostic and Tony London in their legal fight for marriage equality in Virginia. When Virginia gained the freedom to marry fourteen months later – on October 6, 2014 – it was one of the happiest moments in our lives,  a moment we will be celebrating at this year’s Equality Virginia’s Commonwealth Dinner.
Honestly, we entered the fight for marriage equality much earlier than 2013. Our commitment to marriage equality began on a warm morning in January of 1998 when our now 17 year old daughter, Emily, was born. On that morning, we made one of the most important decisions of our life. We both decided to be moms. We decided that we could no longer hide or “fake” that we were just best friends or roommates. We decided that, on behalf of our baby, we were her family and would always present ourselves as both her moms. We decided that we could never pretend that one of us was anything less than her mom.

That single decision has made all the difference. There were times when we would get puzzled looks or stares from folks.  I remember there was a waitress who couldn’t figure us out. “How could you both be moms?” she asked.  Then there was the nurse at the doctor’s office who kept trying to figure out our family tree as she asked repeatedly, “Isn’t one of you a step mom?” and “Who is her dad?” And there was the kind lady who showed up two or three times in our hospital room after Emily was born  to ask if we “wanted to provide the name of the father.” When we said there was no father, she said, “I’ll just come back later.”

Another memory I’ll never forget was when Mary was pregnant with Emily, she had a complication that required emergency treatment. I rushed her to the hospital and checked her in. Then I had to move the car from the emergency room bay to the parking lot. As I left to park, I saw the hospital staff wheel Mary away, doubled over in pain, unable to speak. When I returned after parking the car, I asked the desk staff where Mary was and what her condition was. My heart sank when they asked: “are you a relative?” I answered that I was her partner. That wasn’t good enough. I was denied any information and was told to sit and wait. With tears in my eyes and worry in my heart, I strained my ears to hear her cries, her name, anything…

I walked past that same emergency room on October 15, 2014. I stopped and smiled. I breathed in the sweet air of equality. I realized that from now on I get to call Mary my wife and Emily my daughter. Never again will any of us have to wait for medical status while strangers decide if we are deserving of this precious information.

You see; names matter. Names like “mom” and “wife” make all the difference in the world. That is why we were a part of this case. That is what we won on October 6, 2014: the simple and profound right to call each other family; to call the loves of our life “husband” or “wife” and to hear our children legally call us “mom” or “dad”.

 

 

2/21/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

February 20th, 2015

Session 2015 wrap-up

It’s hard to believe that the 2015 General Assembly session is shortly coming to a close.  Over the last month and a half, we met with dozens of lawmakers, testified at committee hearings, ensured our issues were covered in the press, and worked with folks like you to send thousands of action alerts to our legislators.  In many ways, the effort we all put in paid off:

  • The horrible bill that would have allowed professionals and businesses to blatantly discriminate against LGBT individuals was killed in a House subcommittee
  • Senator McEachin’s workplace non-discrimination bill passed out of the Senate
  • Senator Ebbin’s bill to revise language in the code to reflect the rights and responsibilities of married couples passed out of the Senate
  • A number of our bills received bi-partisan support in the House and in the Senate

However, similar to previous years, despite all our hard work, it’s disappointing – but not surprising –  to see the House of Delegates stand in the way to creating a welcoming and inclusive Virginia. Click here to learn the fate of this year’s LGBT bills.

Take one of our priority bills, for example.  The majority of Virginians, Virginia’s business community, the Virginia Senate, and media outlets across the commonwealth believe in workplace non-discrimination. But, going against the mainstream opinion of the day, the majority in the House of Delegates remains unwilling to budge on their outdated, backwards, and discriminatory stance.

Those lawmakers are not the only ones looking backwards – whether it was a bill to ban damaging gay conversion therapy against LGBT youth, to ensure more children have access to two legal parents, or to end discrimination in employment, the Family Foundation, the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, and the Virginia Catholic Conference were always the only groups present to testify against any bill that would ensure LGBT Virginians are seen and treated equally under the law.

That’s one of the reasons why we needed your support and involvement during session – thank you for taking EV’s actions, joining us for our Day of Action (see photos here), getting your friends and family members involved, and also for your financial support.  We know that our lawmakers are incessantly hearing from those on the other side of this issue.  But, the more we all come together, the stronger our message will become.

Together we will create a Virginia where everybody is treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  With session coming to a close, the staff at Equality Virginia will continue our important work of educating Virginians and changing hearts and minds.  Our work is far from over, but with your involvement and support, we will get there.   Click here to support our work.

For a complete review of the bills we followed this session, see our General Assembly page.

Thanks again for your participation during General Assembly 2015.  Even as we hit road blocks at the General Assembly, the truth is we still have a lot to celebrate.  I hope you can join us for our 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner this year (in Richmond on April 18th), where we will be recognizing our OUTstanding Virginians, celebrating the freedom to marry, and more!

2/14/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

February 19th, 2015

After bringing you good news two weeks in a row, this week we were harshly reminded of the reality we face at Virginia’s General Assembly.  Even the pro-LGBT bills that passed the Senate last week were swiftly killed when they reached a House subcommittee.  While it is shameful and discouraging that the anti-LGBT majority can so quickly vote to keep discrimination alive, this bad news only invigorates us to continue to fight for LGBT equality.  Here’s a breakdown of this week:

  • On Wednesday, Senator Ebbin’s bill (SB 1211) to add gender-neutral language to Virginia’s marriage laws, died in a House Courts subcommittee.  We agree with Senator Ebbin, that “we owe the Virginians who are legally married couples recognition under the law.”  A year ago we all celebrated the decision of Judge Arenda Wright Allen, and four months ago we finally gained the freedom to marry.  But, our laws are still outdated – our work is not yet done.
  • On Thursday afternoon, we turned our attention to workplace fairness.  As the House debated the budget, Delegate Scott Surovell introduced a floor amendment that would protect LGBT state employees from discrimination.  While it didn’t come close to passing, it did receive support from both sides of the aisle, showing that some lawmakers are ready to move Virginia forward.
  • Photo credit: GayRVA (www.gayrva.com)

    On Thursday evening, Senator McEachin’s workplace non-discrimination bill (SB 785) was heard in a House General Laws subcommittee.  We were there to remind the committee that workplace discrimination against LGBT people does exist, and that the majority of Virginians and Virginia’s top employers believe in workplace fairness.  Our statistics and facts fell on deaf ears.  Instead, the majority of the subcommittee was more receptive to the Family Foundation’s (false) argument that “this is a solution looking for a problem.”  We were grateful that Delegate Delores McQuinn stood up against the majority of the subcommittee and stated for the record that “at some point, this General Assembly is going to have to advance the cause and make sure that discrimination anywhere is wrong, against anyone.”  Arguing against the bill was Delegate Ramadan, who said that as a minority he has also faced discrimination, but even though there is “no room for discrimination,” adding to the code is not the answer. Respectfully, we disagree.

Despite these losses, each year we get a step closer to accomplishing equality for LGBT Virginians.  At this time last year, we were nervously waiting for a decision on marriage equality.  Now it has become a reality.  My hope is that a few years down the road, we will look back on these bills as a challenge that we finally were able to accomplish.  It will take time, advocacy, voting, funding, education, and hard work – but we will get there.  As Senator McEachin said, “we’ll keep pushing until we get…to the other side.”
Next Saturday, we’ll give you a recap of the 2015 General Assembly session. In the meantime, we still have a lot of work to do as we continue to move Equality Forward. Stay tuned.

2/7/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

February 6th, 2015

Our hard work paid off!

With your help, Equality Virginia has been working hard to pass two important bills through the Senate.  On Tuesday, we succeeded!  Bills that protect LGBT public employees from workplace discrimination (SB 785) and modernize the Code of Virginia to reflect marriage equality (SB 1211) passed through the Senate with bi-partisan support.  Before  discussing the fate of these bills in the House of Delegates, and how you can help, we’d like to thank a few of the elected officials who were instrumental in making this happen.

Special thanks to Senators Donald McEachin and Adam Ebbin for introducing these important bills and for their long-time support of Virginia’s LGBT community.  Also, we are thankful for Senator Barbara Favola who spoke in favor of SB 785 on the Senate Floor and urged her fellow Senators to support it.  You can watch a video of her remarks here.  As you’ve probably already seen in the news, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam broke the tie vote on SB 785!  In his words: “I got to do something I was really proud of…I cast the first tie-breaking vote of the 2015 General Assembly, and it was a big one.” At Equality Virginia, we are so grateful that we have a supportive Lt. Governor, and that he was able to play a pivotal role in getting this legislation out of the Senate.

Most of all, we are thankful for all of you and for your participation in the political process. Tuesday (Feb 3) was our Day of Action, where we were happy to have so many of you join us.  After a day of lobbying and attending great workshops, the evening celebration began! Together with more than 30 legislators, Attorney General Herring, Lt. Governor Northam, and Governor McAulliffe, we celebrated our success on Tuesday evening at our Legislative Reception. Thank you to all of you who were able to join us, or who took action from home! Click here to check out some pics from the Day of Action and Legislative Reception.

Getting these two bills out of the Senate is huge.  It means that we are on the right track.  But, we have a much larger fight when these bills make it over to the House of Delegates.  If you haven’t already, TAKE ACTION, and tell your Delegate that we need their support.

As we celebrate being one step closer to gaining LGBT equality, the Family Foundation rallied their base this week (mainly in regard to SB 1211). They sent an email out that said “with the help of radical left-wing legislators, activists pushed their homosexual agenda into a committee where they hoped no one would notice” and called the passage of SB 1211 an “attack on our democracy.” Actually, here’s the truth: The Senate Clerk assigned the committee, and we had no role whatsoever in that decision. We also enjoyed support from Republican Senators Norment, Stosch, and Watkins on that bill – hardly “radical left-wing legislators.”  No links from their email went to anything substantive, but instead re-directed the reader to donate to the Family Foundation.  They have also sent out emails asking their supporters to stand against workplace fairness.

Unfortunately we are up against a very well-funded and influential group.  But, with your involvement and financial support, I have no doubt that equality and fairness will come to Virginia.  We will not give up until it does! This week at the General Assembly gave us all some needed momentum to keep up this fight.  Our hard work paid off. We have a few weeks left before the 2015 General Assembly session comes to a close – please choose at least two ways to be involved this coming week:

We’ve lost some and won some – but two weeks in a row, we’ve been able to report good news!  Last week was a big win with Delegate Marshall’s license to discriminate bill failing to get out of subcommittee, and this week we passed two important bills in the Senate! Thanks for sticking with us through the good and the bad!

 

1/31/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

January 30th, 2015

Friday updates graphic

 

 

Wow – we had a really busy week! Unlike last week, I’m happy to report that this week we had some big successes.

Monday, January 26

Monday was a rewarding day at the General Assembly. SB 785, sponsored by Senator McEachin (D–9) was reported out of committee in a tight 8Y–7N vote. That bill, if it is passed by the full Senate, would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for all public employees. Passage of this bill would ensure that Virginia is competitive in recruiting the best employees and is a welcoming place for businesses and families alike.

SB 1211 also made it out of the General Laws and Technology committee with a large number of yea votes. SB 1211 is sponsored by Senator Ebbin (D–30). It revises gendered language like “mother” and “father” and “husband” and “wife” to “parent” and “spouse.” If it passes, it would modernize the Code of Virginia to reflect the contemporary reality of relationships in Virginia.

Those bills will be voted on by the full Senate on Monday, February 2nd.

Also on Monday, subcommittee three of the House Militia, Police, and Public Safety committee tabled HB 1494 (Sullivan D–48). HB 1494 was the House version of Senator Favola’s hate crimes bill. It would have required the reporting of crimes against LGBT individuals due to their sexuality or gender identity.

  • SB 785 (McEachin D–9) – reported
  • SB 1211 (Ebbin D–30) – reported
  • HB 1494 (Sullivan D–48) – failed to report


Tuesday, January 27 and Wednesday, January 28

Tuesday and Wednesday were brutal for bills that would have ensured the rights of LGBT Virginians. Over the two days Senate committees heard four bills, while House sub–committees heard five bills. Unfortunately, all of them failed to report out of committee.

SJ 213 (Howell D–32), SJ 214 (Ebbin D–30), and SJ 283 (McEachin D–9) were amendments to the Virginia Constitution that would have started the process of removing the gay marriage ban from the constitution. Changing the constitution is an extended process. As none of the current amendment proposals reported out of committee, the soonest the amendment could appear on the ballot is 2018, three years after the anticipated Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

Bills SB 682 (Ebbin D–30), HB 1288 (Simon D–53), and HB 1289 (Surovell D–44) would have repealed the statute that originally banned gay marriage back in 1975. None of them made it out of committee.

Delegate Hope (D–47) sponsored HB 1385 which would have prohibited subjecting minors to sexual orientation change efforts. It, too, was killed in committee.

Delegate Simon (D–53) sponsored HB 1600 which is similar to Senator Ebbin’s SB 1211. It also removes gendered language from the Code of Virginia. Unlike Senator Ebbin’s bill, Simon’s bill failed to report out of the House Civil Law subcommittee. Even with that loss, there was some promising news: Delegate Habeeb, the chairman of that committee, committed to bring HB 1600 to the very next Code Commission meeting.

Here’s a review from Tuesday and Wednesday:

  • SJ 213 (Howell D–32) – failed to report
  • SJ 214 (Ebbin D–30) – failed to report
  • SJ 283 (McEachin D–9) – failed to report
  • SB 682 (Ebbin D–30) – failed to report
  • HB 1288 (Simon D–53) – failed to report
  • HB 1289 (Surovell D–44) – failed to report
  • HB 1385 (Hope D–47) – failed to report
  • HB 1600 (Simon D–53) – failed to report

Thursday, January 29

Emotions were high on Thursday when HB 1414 (Marshall R–13), the “conscience clause” bill, finally made it onto a subcommittee docket. In addition to HB 1414, that same docket had three other bills we were supporting on it as well. HB 1454 (Simon D–53), HB 1498 (Plum D–36), and HB 1643 (Villanueva R–21). These three bills failed to report, but thankfully, HB 1414 also failed to report.

HB 1454 was a fair housing bill designed to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals when seeking housing. HB 1498 and HB 1643 would have prohibited discrimination in public employment. During the public comments on House bills 1498 and 1643, the representative of the Family Foundation stated that there are three criteria for a group to be considered a protected class under federal law, such as in the Civil Rights Act (presumably the one passed in 1964). He then said that those three classifications are historical discrimination, political powerlessness, and economic inequality, and that LGBT people as a group don’t meet any of those criteria. We don’t agree with his legal analysis, and furthermore, it is worth noting that transgender individuals are more than twice as likely as the general population to be unemployed and those who are employed earn demonstrably less money than their cisgender peers.

The good news from Thursday was that HB 1414 failed to report out of the subcommittee. When the subcommittee chair asked for testimony in favor of the bill, no one volunteered to defend it. When the subcommittee killed it, we all let out a sigh of relief.

In some further good news, HB 1409 (Marshall R–13) was also killed by a subcommittee. That bill would have taken away the power of the governor to require state contractors not discriminate.

That night, HJ 546 (Sullivan D–48) and 648 (Villanueva R–21) also failed to report. HJ 546 would have asked several governmental bodies to study how to revise the Code of Virginia to remove gendered language. HJ 648 would have asked the Virginia Housing Commission to study the effects of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • HB 1409 (Marshall R–13) – failed to report
  • HB 1414 (Marshall R–13) – failed to report
  • HB 1454 (Simon D–53) – failed to report
  • HB 1498 (Plum D–36) – failed to report
  • HB 1643 (Villanueva R–21) – failed to report
  • HJ 546 (Sullivan, Jr. D–48) – failed to report
  • HJ 648 (Villanueva R–21) – failed to report


It was a busy week
: we suffered some losses and celebrated some vital wins.  We were there every step of the way advocating for a fair and equal Virginia! Support our work at the General Assembly – donate today! 

Come Monday, we will have our eyes on the Senate Floor with hopes that SB 785 and SB 1211 pass.  Tuesday is our Day of Action, for those of you who have already signed up, we look forward to seeing you! Registration is now closed, but if you are able to join us from 5:30-7:30 for our annual Legislative Reception, please sign up here.

Thanks for following our weekly General Assembly updates. We hope they’re keeping you informed.

 

1/24/2015: This week at the General Assembly

January 23rd, 2015

 Friday updates graphic

The General Assembly session officially started Wednesday, January 14th. That evening, in his State of the Commonwealth address, Governor McAuliffe said that, “in a new Virginia economy, every person will have an equal right to succeed, regardless of his or her…sexual orientation.” Hearing his remarks – and knowing that the Governor of Virginia fully supports the LGBT community – was a heartening way to start session.

Before we get started with this week’s update, this year – for the very first time – we are glad to have a legislative fellow join us for these very busy weeks of session.  Ashley Moore, a recent law school graduate, will join Kirsten and James down at the General Assembly building and make sure that Equality Virginia seamlessly represents the views of Virginia’s LGBT community.  She’ll also be live tweeting as bills are heard – so make sure you follow us on Twitter to be the first to know!

Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed this week, not all of our legislators share Governor McAuliffe’s perspective when it comes to LGBT equality.  Last Thursday, things started to get busy.
  • SB 799, a bill introduced by Senator Favola (D–31) that would require Virginia’s law enforcement to report crimes against a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity as hate crimes, quickly died in the Senate Court of Justice committee. We will see that bill come up again as Delegate Rip Sullivan (D–48) has introduced a similar bill in the House. Unfortunately, with the anti-LGBT led House of Delegates, we don’t have much hope for the House bill either.

Things really ramped up this week.  Here’s the breakdown:


MONDAY

  • HJ 492, introduced by Delegate Krupicka (D–45) & HJ 493, introduced by Delegate Surovell (D–44) are constitutional amendments to remove or update the language of the current anti-marriage amendment. These bills are important in that they will update Virginia’s constitution to reflect the law of the land. The bills were heard but the committee will not be voting on them until later this session.
  • Senator Wexton (D–33) introduced SB 917, a fair housing bill that would make discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity unlawful. This bill failed to report out of committee on a 7–7 vote. We will see a similar bill in the House of Delegates in upcoming weeks.

TUESDAY

We held a press conference Tuesday, where we were pleased to have a number of pro-equality legislators speak to their bills. This is an historic year for us – we have received bi-partisan support and have had more than 20 pro-LGBT bills introduced by a dozen lawmakers! (Check out our GA page for more details).

THURSDAY

Thursday saw us up early for committee meetings at 7:30 and 8:00.  Bills to ban sexual orientation change efforts were before House and Senate committees that morning.

  • HB 1385, introduced by Delegate Hope (D–47) was heard, but the committee did not yet vote.  (Unfortunately, we do not expect this extremely important bill that would protect Virginia’s LGBT children to  pass out of subcommittee);
  • SB 988, introduced by Senator Lucas (D–18), failed to pass committee.

FRIDAY

  • Wrapping up the week, SB 679, a bill allowing for second parent adoption introduced by Senator Howell (D-32), was heard in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services committee. While there was a great deal of vocal support from the Democratic members of the committee, in the end, the bill failed to report by one vote.

This week has shown us that anti-LGBT leaders in both the House and the Senate are simply not willing to support Virginia’s LGBT community. We had a disappointing week but hope that next week will make a turn for the better.

As you can see, we sure have a lot on our plate.  Keep Equality Virginia at the General Assembly, and help support our advocacy and education efforts by donating today – we need your support!


PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK

  • Coming up on Monday are committee votes on workplace non-discrimination (SB 785 and SB 1181) bills, cleaning up the Code of Virginia to make references to husband and wife and mother and father gender neutral (SB 1211), and the House version of the hate crimes bill (HB 1494).
  • We also have our eyes on the lookout for HB 1409 and HB 1414, two discriminatory bills filed by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13).  Those bills have not yet been assigned to a subcommittee, but we didn’t let that stop us from delivering a petition on Tuesday with 6,000 signature from Virginians in opposition to HB 1414.  We will do everything we can to stop that bill from passing.


If this week told us anything, it’s that your legislators need to hear from you
. If you haven’t already, make sure you tell your legislator where you stand when it comes to LGBT equality.

For an overview of where equality bills stand, please check out our General Assembly page.  If you want immediate updates about what’s going on in the General Assembly this session, you can follow us on Twitter.

Thanks for all your support and involvement – sometimes the road is bumpy – but we won’t stop working until Virginia is a welcoming and safe place for all LGBT individuals and families!

Equality Virginia’s Day of Action is coming up on Feb. 3!  Make sure you join us in Richmond! 

Legislators for Equality: Senator Ebbin

December 17th, 2014

By Senator Adam EbbinAE Senate Headshot

In February of this year, US District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage equality – also known as the “Marshall-Newman Amendment” – was unconstitutional. The case was appealed and stayed, leaving the fate of marriage equality in flux for eight months. So on October 6, when the US Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth and its neighboring states by declining to review this case, it took a while to sink in.

As the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, I have fought over the last 11 years for LGBT equality. In my first years in the House of Delegates I worked hard against the Marshall-Newman Amendment and watched in sadness as it was passed and added to our state’s constitution. I have introduced and supported legislation to reverse this decision, but each time faced stiff opposition.

The Supreme Court’s decision legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth, but it does not automatically erase the discriminatory Marshall-Newman language that had been added to the Virginia constitution. Right now, our state’s code and constitution both still contain inoperative language that restricts marriage to straight couples and prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of Virginia. We need to strike these provisions from our code and constitution, which is why I have introduced SJ214 and SB682 to accomplish exactly that. The constitution and Code of Virginia must accurately reflect the rule of law, and attorneys and citizens need to have confidence and clarity when reading them.

Today, Virginia has a proud distinction of being one of the best states in the country to raise a family or locate a business. Yet, outright segregation, the poll tax to prevent African-Americans from voting, and “Massive Resistance” to integrated schools are all shameful reminders of a Commonwealth where prejudice and discrimination were rampant. Interracial marriage was a criminal offense, even until 1967.

While marriage equality has arrived in the Commonwealth, it’s also important to remember that our commitment to LGBT equality does not end with marriage. It is still perfectly legal for employers to discriminate against or even fire their employees simply for being LGBT. Hate crimes still occur, and it is hard for many LGBT people to be truly and fully accepted in our society. Governor Terry McAuliffe has been a key ally in our cause, signing an executive order on his first day in office that provides employment protections for public employees, but this can be easily reversed by a future governor. We need to enact these protections into state law so that it won’t be up to the whim of one individual whether to allow or disallow discrimination in employment. I am committed to these causes just as I have been for marriage equality and I am optimistic that our recent trend toward full equality and fairness for all will continue in 2015 and beyond.

Legislators for Equality: Delegate Surovell

December 15th, 2014

By Delegate Scott Surovellsurovell headshot

In October, the United States Supreme Court refused an appeal of Bostic v. Rainey from Virginia’s 4th Circuit, ending years of struggle to bring marriage equality to Virginia. This gigantic leap forward for equality finally allowed all couples the dignity to marry the person they love.

For nearly two months, same sex marriages have been carried out throughout the Commonwealth. However, discriminatory and ugly anti-marriage equality laws still remain on Virginia’s books. Keeping this part of the legal code creates legal ambiguity and uncertainty for families, continuing to undermine our reputation as a welcoming and tolerant state.

State law has expressly banned gay marriage since 1975 after a Clerk in the State of Colorado began recognizing same sex marriages.  The Code of Virginia has prohibited recognition of out-of-state gay marriages since 1997 and civil unions since 2004. On top of this, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2006.  The constitutional amendment didn’t change the Virginia law – it just made it significantly harder to make changes.

Public opinion has moved significantly and rapidly since the constitutional amendment passed. As of 2013, 65% of Virginians support marriage equality and civil unions and thirty-five states now grant gay marriages. It’s critical that we take this back to the voters so that we can send a strong message to the General Assembly that Virginians oppose these laws and want the amendment repealed.

It’s time we move past this part of our history and remove state sanctioned discrimination from Virginia’s books. That’s why Senator Ebbin and I have introduced three bills to strike all parts of the code that threaten marriage equality:

  • Article 1, Section 15-A of the Constitution of Virginia passed in 2006 prohibiting same sex marriages and recognition of civil unions must be repealed.
  • 20-45.2 of the Code of Virginia passed in 1975 and amended in 1997 prohibiting same sex marriage or recognition of out of state marriage must be repealed.​
  • 20-45.3 of the Code of Virginia passed in 2004 prohibiting recognition of civil unions or recognition of contacts or contractual rights relating to same sex individuals must be repealed.​

I am hopeful that these legislative changes move forward so that no ambiguity exists about where Virginia stands.

Our Commonwealth is the home state of the Declaration of Rights.  We cannot continue to insult our history by keeping this in the Code. It has been a huge year for marriage equality in the Commonwealth, but it’s critical that we continue with our progress.

Legislators for Equality: Delegate Simon

December 15th, 2014

By Delegate Marcus Simon

0ac6d43It’s been my honor to succeed my mentor and good friend James M. “Jim” Scott in the House of Delegates in 2014.  I want to take this opportunity to once again thank Jim for his support, not just during my campaign, but as a fresh-out-of-college, enthusiastic, and very inexperienced legislative aide when he gave me my first job in 1992.

I learned so much from Jim in that first job, but no lesson was more important than one that I continue to apply in my work and as a legislator today. Figure out what’s important to you, what matters most, and work hard at it. It’s easy to get distracted by the topic or controversy of the day, but Jim made it clear that unless the issue was one that he was especially passionate about or especially expert at, we didn’t need to try and take the lead.

On those core issues, though, the ones that mattered most, Jim was an extraordinarily effective leader.  One such issue was Housing.  Jim was always a passionate activist for affordable housing and housing non-discrimination.  Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that even after I left work with Jim to go on to work for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and later off to law school, I returned to housing and real estate law as my chosen profession.

At least every biennium, if not more frequently, Jim Scott would introduce a bill to expand Virginia’s Fair Housing law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  I was pleased to continue that tradition last year, my first in the legislature, with the introduction of HB418. I plan to spearhead a bi-partisan effort to make more headway on that bill in 2015.

Beyond being the right thing to do, I think it’s important to Virginia’s business climate and to our Realtor community that this change be implemented in Virginia.  The National Association of Realtor’s Code of Ethics already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by its members.  I think Virginia should hold all of its real estate licensees, whether they choose to join their realtor association or not, to the same standard.

Continuing to reject such a mainstream change to our Fair Housing law is harmful to Virginia’s reputation as a great place to do business, particularly in the science and technology communities.  While Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook only recently went public with his sexual orientation, it’s been well known for years that the hi-tech companies want to do business in places where they have access to a well-educated, capable, and enlightened workforce open to new ideas.  Places where people and talent are judged on their merits and abilities, not the color of their skin, their national origin, or their sexual orientation.

Federal Courts have made Virginia a much better place for same sex couples to live and raise their families.  It’s time for the General Assembly to take a small step in that direction — and if the step is still too big in 2015, we’ll try again. Because this is an issue that matters.