Interview: Protecting Equal Rights in the 2015 General Assembly

We recently interviewed Kirsten Bokenkamp, Director of Communications for Equality Virginia about some of its legislative priorities in the 2015 session of the General Assembly.

The interview occurred before the United States Supreme Court announced it will hear a review of a federal appeals court decision regarding same-sex marriage.

The Marshall-Newman Amendment, which enshrined the prohibition on both same-sex marriages and civil unions in the Virginia Constitution, passed with 57% of the vote in 2006. Less than a decade later, only 42% of Virginians still oppose marriage freedom. Why have we seen such a dramatic shift?

A growing majority support the freedom to marry, in part because as loving couples and families have shared their stories with family members, friends, and neighbors, more people learn that people in same-sex relationships share the same values as they have.  Today, people understand that marriage is about love and commitment and nobody should be denied the freedom to marry the person they love.  According to Pew Research, nearly nine-in-ten Americans personally know somebody who is gay or lesbian. Research shows that, regardless of ideology, people who know somebody who is gay or lesbian are significantly more supportive of marriage equality than people who do not personally know somebody who is gay or lesbian.rings-182980_1920

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline review of the 4th Circuit’s ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer, gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry in Virginia. Why is it still important to repeal the statutory prohibition on same-sex marriage and the Marshall-Newman Amendment?

Virginia has gained the freedom to marry, and Virginia law should reflect that reality. There are two places that the Virginia code should be repealed.  The first, Section 20-45.2 prohibits same-sex marriages or the recognition of out of state marriages, and the second, Section 20-45.3, prohibits recognition of civil unions or recognition of contracts or contractual rights relating to same-sex individuals. There have been bills (SB 682, HB 1288, HB 1289)  introduced to repeal these sections of the code. You can learn more about these bills here.

Equality Virginia’s preview of the General Assembly session states that “Even with marriage equality, there are some lesbian and gay  families who still need second-parent adoption to protect their children.” Can you briefly explain the problem and why further legislative action is necessary to protect these families?

Even with marriage equality, some children in Virginia are unable to establish a legal relationship with both their parents.  SB679 would allow a second parent to adopt a child without the first parent losing any parental rights and would ensure that the legal relationship between children and both their parents is not dependent on the legal relationship between the parents.   It is unclear how marital presumption applies to same-sex married couples, and until the whole country gains the freedom to marry, the best way to ensure that children have access to two legal parents is to provide a pathway to adoption that is not dependent upon the recognition of the relationship between the two parents.  Virginia does not require different-sex parents to marry in order for them both to secure legal ties to their children, and we shouldn’t have that requirement for same-sex couples either.  The best way to recognize the diversity of Virginia’s families and protect Virginia’s children is through a bill that would allow for second-parent adoption. You can learn more about this bill here.

Polls show that a strong majority of young Republicans support marriage freedom, and young conservatives are working to change the GOP’s platform. Equality Virginia has Republican allies in the General Assembly on bills like second-parent adoption and public employment discrimination. Have, or will, any Virginia Republican politicians come around on marriage? What can young conservatives do here in Virginia to bring about change?

The political landscape is constantly changing when it comes to marriage equality, and EV believes that there are a number of Republican legislators who – if given the chance – would vote to support marriage equality.  One leader on this issue is Delegate Yost who publically stated last year that he supports the freedom to marry.  One of the best ways for young conservatives to bring about change is to communicate with their legislators and explain that LGBT equality is an important issue to them. One easy way of doing this is signing up for Equality Virginia’s Action Alerts.

Equality Virginia did not release a legislative scorecard for the last General Assembly session because of the lack of recorded votes, which are key to finding out where the politicians stand even if a bill can’t pass at this point in time. What are the obstacles to getting recorded votes this session?

Many of the bills supporting LGBT equality do not make it out of committee hearings, particularly in the House of Delegates. As such, not all lawmakers have an opportunity to vote on the issue.  Regardless of this challenge, Equality Virginia Advocates will be releasing a scorecard for the 2015 General Assembly session.  It will be used to educated constituents and voters and EV PAC will use the findings as it considers endorsements for the 2015 election.  We plan on seeing a budget amendment introduced where all Delegates will have an opportunity to show that they support ending discrimination in the workplace.

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