While Tuesday's wins were huge for Virginia’s LGBTQ community, those expecting their share of equal rights shouldn’t get too comfortable — the fight is far from over.
We all know state Danica Roem beat the very entrenched and self-declared “chief homophobe,” Delegate Bob Marshall, in the race for the state’s 13th District — she is now the state’s first openly transgender delegate-elect. And while Marshall’s history of support for things like bathroom bills have made recent headlines, don’t forget the man also was the co-author of the state’s now-defunct, 2006 voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the Marshall-Newman Amendment.
And that amendment, though unenforceable after the Supreme Court of the United States struck it down in 2014, remains printed in the state’s most powerful legal document.
Looking forward, it’s important to remember all of the struggles LGBTQ folks have faced in the statehouse and what elected officials can do to fix it. Virginia was one of the first states to codify its ban on same-sex marriage back in the late 1970s. The language of that law is also still on the books. There’s even a ban on civil unions that was put into law in 2004 whose language remains.
But we’re not done there. In 2012, former Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law the nation’s first modern “religious freedom” bill, then known as a “conscience clause,” which allowed state-funded adoption agencies to deny their services based on religious beliefs. That needs to go, too.
These laws continue to be a stain on the state where we live and love, and the reality is the state’s largest LGBTQ equality organization, Equality Virginia, has not done enough to fix these problems.
For whatever reason, Gov. Terry McAuliffe also signed a conscience clause, this one dealing with genetic counselors, something even the ACLU found baffling. The law similarly allows genetic counselors to turn away gay couples or unwed, hopeful parents if it goes against their religious beliefs. We can nix that puppy while we’re at it.
I need only point to Equality Virginia’s advocacy arm, known as EVPAC, and its endorsement of two incumbent Republican delegates, Joseph Yost and Ronald Villanueva, during this year’s race. Both candidates, who have a history of siding with LGBTQ issues despite their party’s history, lost to their Democratic opponents on Election Day. Does EVPAC have so little faith in Democrats, or the voters, that it needed to hedge its bets?
Instead, look to Democratic Socialist Lee Carter, who swept up his Manassas district, with zero support from the state party. While I might not ascribe to the degree of his politics, we can no longer have faith in the usual systems as they have lost faith in us.
So, once we’ve gotten rid of these archaic, embarrassing laws, why don’t we move forward instead.
May Virginia join the ranks of states like Colorado and Washington, which explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the employment, housing and public accommodations. Let Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, be the first state in the South to make it illegal for a bakery to turn away a gay couple's wedding cake, or to fire the young, queer fry cook after he’s outed at work, or turn down the lesbian couple trying to rent their first apartment together.
All of these acts are currently legal under Virginia law, and it is disrespectful and dehumanizing.
And how about we take Marshall’s famous bathroom bill and make one of our own; one that ensures transgender people aren’t discriminated against or harassed when they answer nature's call — instead of making it illegal.
Tuesday was a wake-up call, not only for Republicans but also Democrats. We’re sick and tired of being sidelined and treated, politically, like frosting on a wedding cake — a cake we can be denied. It’s up to us to make sure our legislators and advocacy groups know we elect them. We pay their salary. And we will work with them … or against them.