The Legal Ban
The Marshall-Newman Amendment, or, the Virginia Marriage Amendment, amended the state constitution, in addition to an existing statute, to define marriage as a legal union between one woman and one man; it also prohibits the recognition of any legal relationship “approximat[ing] the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage”. The intense amendment was approved by 57 percent Virginia’s voters in 2006.
The law interferes with legal matters including “wills, medical directives, powers of attorney, child custody and property arrangements, even perhaps joint bank accounts.”
Not only does Virginia ban same-sex unions of any type performed in-state or elsewhere, there are in fact laws barring the creation of other laws that could grant same-sex couples the right to marriage or civil unions.
Activism and Lawsuits
Ron Bookbinder and James Fisherwent to the courthouse on Valentine’s Day of 2012 to get married. They knew rejection was coming but they filled out the paperwork anyway and handed it over to Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson. Ferguson was sympathetic to the cause and promised to keep their paperwork on hand in the event that gay marriage is some day legalized in Virginia. The middle-class, middle-aged rebels were there in Arlington to make a statement which they certainly achieved. “In the eyes of the government, we’re second-class citizens – and it’s unfair. We’ve done all the things couples do over the course of their marriage. We’ve been through what all couples go through. We want what our neighbors have” said Fisher. The couple was part of an
organized effort—other couples did the same in Fairfax County and Richmond—that was put together by members and leaders from Rock Spring United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Clarendon Presbyterian Church and Hope United Church of Christ. The couple believes it’s a matter of comfort with the idea and that most people who know them believe they should have the same rights.
In other recent events, a federal lawsuit was filed in February of 2012 to challenge the Veterans Affairs Department denial of rights to legally married gay and lesbian military couples and their families. Of course, their married heterosexual peers are granted all the benefits promised to veterans and their families.
Christine Sun, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center rightly said in a prepared statement that “the government’s refusal to grant these benefits is a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian service members who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms.”
Change may be on the horizon for the state with some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the country. Just five years after banning gay marriage with a constitutional amendment, polls are showing a divided Virginia regarding gay unions. A Washington Post poll revealed that 47 percent of Virginians approve of gay couples marrying and 57 percent of Virginians believe gay couples should have the right to legally adopt children.
- Can gay couples marry in Virginia? No.
- Can gay couples enter into any legal union in Virginia? No.