By Grant Beck, ERC Communications Associate
One of the most iconic representations of my home state is the omnipresent mantra “Virginia is for Lovers.” Bumper stickers, magnets, and t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase can be found all over the Commonwealth. And what’s not to love? Few states in the Union can boast the rich and storied history of the Old Dominion. The landscape varies from pristine coastline, to richly-colored woods, to majestically blue-tinged mountain ranges. The brilliant, revolutionary minds of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all called the state home. Virginia, it seems, is indeed for lovers.
Except, when it isn’t.
Last week, the Virginia General Assembly had two pieces of legislation to consider, both dealing with the on-going struggle for LGBT equality. The first bill, SB248, attempted to enact a statewide ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBT workers. The bill’s language was similar to newly-elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order banning LGBT discrimination against all state employees. The employment non-discrimination bill vote deadlocked in subcommittee, making it ineligible to move to a vote in front of the full State Senate (one half of Virginia’s bicameral legislature).
Almost simultaneously, a bill to repeal a statute banning same-sex marriage in Virginia went into subcommittee in the other half of the legislature, the House of Delegates. This bill, HB939, did not even receive enough votes to move out of subcommittee for a full House vote.
It seems that, for the time being, Virginia’s legislators are satisfied with the status quo, certainly not uncommon in the state’s history. Virginia has a long history of limiting marriage equality.
After traveling together to visit family in Virginia from Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were arrested for violating Virginia’s strict ban on interracial marriage. In the aptly-named Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Court ruled that all state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional, and Virginia found itself on the wrong side of history.
As a lifelong Virginian – born, raised and educated in the Commonwealth – I am hopeful that the state will begin the move toward LGBT equality, and there are promising signs of change. Late last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced that the state will join two gay Virginia couples in asking a federal judge to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Allowing continued discrimination against individuals based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity sends a message contrary to Virginia’s own mantra. As a state that has been a cornerstone at so many junctions in American history, with its proximity to the nation’s capital and deep roots in American politics, Virginia has always served as a bellwether for the legislative and political landscape in the United States. It’s time to put that influence toward the cause of advancing equality for ALL individuals.
“All men are created equal” was a credo penned by a Virginian. Will legislators work to create a state that welcomes all individuals and lives up to its most famous son’s words; or will the state once again find itself on the wrong side of history?