Republicans block proposal to repeal same-sex marriage ban in Virginia

Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that stated “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage.”

Published: February 17, 2023 2:20pm

Updated: February 17, 2023 11:26pm

(The Center Square) -

A proposal to repeal Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage currently contained in the state Constitution was defeated by a Republican-majority committee in the House Friday.

The committee panel, which had four Republican members and one Democrat lawmaker, defeated a proposed constitutional amendment Friday that would have ultimately given voters the option to decide whether a section of state code banning same-sex marriage should be repealed.

In 2006, Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment that added a section to Virginia’s stating “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth.” A 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges overrode Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage by requiring the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The proposed constitutional amendment defeated Friday proposed repealing this section of the code entirely, and would have been subject to voter approval on the ballot. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington, told lawmakers Friday the bill “provides fundamental dignity and equality to our family, friends, neighbors and to me.” Ebbin was one of the first openly gay members elected to the General Assembly.

“It’s time to let the voters take action on this amendment,” Ebbin said to the committee Friday.

A proposed constitutional amendment similar to Ebbin’s bill was filed in the House, and backed by both Republican and Democratic patrons. The bill, however, never received a committee hearing in the Republican-majority in the House and never advanced.

After the conservative-majority Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last year through a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, LGBTQ advocates have raised concern future action by the high court could put protections for same-sex marriage at risk.

An opponent of the bill speaking on behalf of the Family Foundation raised the notion of the Supreme Court overturning its 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges ahead of Friday’s vote in the committee.

“With the court’s precedence in Dobbs, the court is clearly in a position to reverse its erroneous 2015 decision,” Family Foundation Lobbyist Todd Gathje said Friday. “If and when it does, Virginia’s Constitution should continue to reflect the truth about marriage.”

Republicans on the committee did not offer any further comments before making a motion to lay the bill on the table – a move that essentially kills the legislation for the remainder of the session.

The decision by the committee was denounced by Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, who accused Republican lawmakers of blocking an opportunity for Virginia voters to weigh in on same-sex marriage on the ballot.

“Today’s vote proves that Virginia’s Republican Party believes that the far-right Supreme Court will act to overturn the precedent set in the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, and it’s clear they want to be ready to ban current, lawful LGBTQ marriages if they do,” Liam Watson, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement. “Republicans are actively trying to strip Virginians of their freedoms – whether that’s the freedom to marry the person they love, or the freedom to make their own health care decisions.”

The committee vote was also mentioned on the floor of the House Friday.

“We already know that folks like the Family Foundation and other extreme elements of the party are salivating at the opportunity to start taking these freedoms away,” Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, said Friday.

No Republicans spoke about the committee vote on the floor of the House on Friday.

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