by: Jackie DeFusco
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A defunct ban on same-sex marriage will stay in Virginia’s Constitution after Republicans rejected a push to remove it.
On Tuesday, a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee voted along party lines to kill the proposal. The constitutional amendment passed with bipartisan support last year but it needed to win the General Assembly’s approval again this session before ending up on the ballot this fall.
The defeat means voters won’t have an opportunity to weigh in.
The ban, which was added by voters back in 2006, is currently symbolic and unenforceable.
However, Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who sponsored the bill, has argued that repealing the language would protect same-sex marriage rights at the state level if federal protections were to change. He urged the Republican-led panel to reconsider their opposition.
“We have evolved since 2006 when we stained our constitution with the so-called marriage amendment and I’m going to give this committee a chance to evolve since you made a mistake a few weeks ago,” Ebbin said.
The subcommittee voted 6-4 along party lines to defeat the resolution. None of the lawmakers opposed spoke out publicly against the amendment during the meeting, nor did they agree to interviews afterwards.
Virginia Catholic Conference Executive Director Jeff Caruso told the subcommittee, “We affirm the dignity of every person. We also believe marriage has an original design and purpose that predates any nation, religion or law…If you believe, as we do, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that we should preserve this original design, please vote to continue reflecting that in our state constitution.”
Richmond Law Professor John Pagan said, if the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court were to roll back federal protections, the state’s ban could take effect once again.
“I think it’s highly unlikely,” Pagan said. “I don’t think the United States Supreme Court is going to backtrack on marriage equality.”
The resolution’s rejection is the latest example of the political shift in Richmond.
Former Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, played a key role in shoring up same-sex marriage rights in Virginia before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican, didn’t respond to a request for comment. However, he voted against removing the ban while serving in the House of Delegates last year.
Governor Glenn Youngkin also didn’t comment.
Carol Schall and Mary Townley, one of the couples involved in a case that paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia, renewed their vows in a ceremony led by former Attorney General Herring in 2014. Tuesday’s vote left them feeling uneasy.
“The whole world right now is just feeling a little more scary,” Townley said.
“Our constitution has enshrined discrimination,” said Schall. “We don’t want to be married for the happy times, we need to be married for the sad times, for the tragic times, for the times when we need each other legally to be family. As long as this is on the books in Virginia, Virginia is saying we hope that, someday, you don’t get to be family again.”
The same subcommittee also rejected another constitutional amendment that would’ve automatically restored voting rights for felons immediately upon release from incarceration.
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