Push to remove outdated same-sex marriage ban from Virginia Constitution passes

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – An effort to get rid of an outdated ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia cleared its final hurdle of the 2021 General Assembly on Friday.

While the constitutional amendment passed this year, it still needs to win a majority in next year’s General Assembly and in a statewide voter referendum. That means if Republicans take back control of the House of Delegates, it could potentially derail the effort down the road.

The provision defining marriage as between a man and a woman was added to the state’s constitution in 2006. While the section is no longer enforceable, some lawmakers say it’s a stain that needs to be removed.

For Carol Shall, the push to enshrine marriage equality in Virginia’s Constitution is personal.

“Names really matter,” Shall said. “When I say ‘I’m Mary’s wife’ that means something.’” 

In 2014, Schall and her wife, Mary Townley, were plaintiffs in the case that ultimately forced Virginia to recognize same-sex marriage. That was more than one year before a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized it nationwide.

Now, Shall is among those who want the outdated ban removed from the state constitution once and for all.

“What it would mean is Virginia has moved on from that ugly past of saying who belongs and who doesn’t, who’s a family and who’s not,” Shall said.

While the change would be largely symbolic, supporters say it would add another layer of protection for LGBTQ couples if federal law were to change. 

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the first openly gay Virginian to win a seat in the General Assembly, introduced the amendment.

“It’s to affirm in our Constitution that this is a right that won’t be denied to people and that our state values all people, regardless of who they love,” Ebbin said.

The amendment specifies that religious organizations could still refuse to perform any marriage they don’t believe in. That wasn’t enough to win over the majority of Republicans who voted against it, including Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg).

“The people in my district firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. They overwhelmingly supported the constitutional amendment that established that marriage was between a man and a woman,” Peake said.

The constitutional amendment passed in the Senate on Friday with a vote of 22-12. In the House, the most recent vote was 60-37.

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