The first same-sex spouses in Virginia just celebrated three months of marriage, only to receive an unfortunate reminder of the continued opposition they face in Virginia’s General Assembly just for being who they are.
Like the controversial SB 1062 in Arizona last year, Delegate Bob Marshall’s (R-Manassas) HB 1414 seeks to exploit the fears of conservatives that they will face legal persecution for their personal opposition to same-sex marriage. But at best, both bills represent a solution in search of a problem. Nothing in Bostic v. Schaefer, the court case that invalidated Virginia’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, imposes new obligations on non-state actors.
At worst, however, these bills signify something far more malicious: enshrining anti-gay sentiment into law. Marshall’s bill makes that all the more obvious because, unlike the Arizona bill, which did not specifically address homosexuality, Marshall’s proposal singles out gay and lesbian couples and individuals as open to discrimination.
Bob Marshall’s intent is not, as he and his allies may claim, to advance freedom. His legislation seeks to uniquely privilege one particular moral belief — his own — under the law. Ironically, if similar legislation were before the General Assembly that echoed Marshall’s language but instead uniquely privileged some Muslims’ views about appropriate female dress, Marshall would likely be among the first to shout about the imposition of Sharia Law.
Marshall’s legislative history bears out that what he calls freedom is too-often “freedom for me but not for thee.” Most notably, Marshall co-authored Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He has repeatedly and consistently sought to expand the power of the state to limit the freedom of gays and lesbians — and even those who would freely engage in commerce with them.
At the same time as he was leading the fight against the freedom to marry, Marshall co-patroned legislation to ban adoption by homosexuals. He introduced legislation to prohibit medical professionals from assisting unmarried women with invitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and similar procedures. More recently, following the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Marshall sought to prevent gays and lesbians from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard.
Not so long ago Virginia was the only state in the country to prevent private businesses from offering health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of employees. Like many of his conservative colleagues in the General Assembly, Marshall fought the common-sense deregulation of Virginia’s insurance laws.
One sad detail in that particular battle demonstrates just how far we’ve come in the last decade. Media reports indicated that the bill only advanced in the General Assembly because the business community took the lead in fighting for it. They portrayed Virginia’s strict regulatory regime as a job-killer — which it was. Businesses cited the prohibition in relocation talks. Gay and lesbian individuals reportedly waited in the hallways quietly, rather than testify at public hearings, so as not to scare off conservatives from viewing it as a pro-homosexual bill.
Now, a majority of Virginians support same-sex marriage. Even three-fifths of young Republicans favor the freedom to marry. Should Marshall’s bill advance in the General Assembly, Virginians from across the political spectrum will likely rise up as they have in other states.
Though Governor Terry McAuliffe would veto the bill, just passing it would send the message that Virginia remains disdainful of an entire class of citizens. The General Assembly should send the opposite message — that Virginia is an inclusive society — by not only rejecting HB 1414 but also enacting legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT public employees. The government belongs to all people and it should not fire or refuse to hire any individual on any basis other than ability to perform one’s job.
Virginia prides itself on its reputation as a good state to do business in. We ought to commit ourselves to fostering a dynamic commonwealth, our doors open both to businesses and people of all backgrounds.
About the Author
Nicholas Cote is Editor-in-Chief of Future Dominion and President of Right Way Forward Virginia. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.