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Virginia Republicans kill marriage equality, voting rights measures

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Photo courtesy of Virginia Association of Counties
Photo courtesy of Virginia Association of Counties

Republicans in Virginia's General Assembly killed proposals to strip legally outdated language barring same-sex marriage from the state's constitution and to restore voting rights to felons who have served their prison terms.

Both proposals passed the Virginia legislature last year when Democrats controlled the body and there was a Democratic governor. According to Virginia law, they needed to be passed a second time in order to be put before voters for a final decision.

Virginia Del. Chris Head, the chairman of the Privileges and Elections committee that killed a bill calling for a referendum on gay and voting rights — Photo by Steve Helber / AP  

This year, with Republicans in political control of the state, and on a straight party-line vote, the General Assembly rejected both measures.

Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage dates from 1997. It was already banned by statute since 1975. Since the US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell, those bans are no longer enforceable, and same-sex couples are able to marry in Virginia just as they are everywhere in the US.

Virginia Democrats sought to modernize their state's constitution by removing the old, legally unenforceable language, but Republicans insisted on retaining it to express their continuing opposition to marriage equality.

The proposed amendment never even reached the floor of the Assembly for debate. They were struck down in committee on a 6-4 vote, with all Republicans voting against and all Democrats voting for.

Advocates who spoke for the measure said it remains undignified and hurtful for the current outdated and anti-LGBTQ language to remain in place. Lobbyists for faith-based organizations argued against the measure.

Josh Hetzler, counsel for the Family Foundation of Virginia, warned that the measure would open to the door to polygamy "and other types of marriage" because it did not include language limiting marriage to two people.

Delegate Dawn Adams, committee member and an out Lesbian, said in an emotional speech that it was offensive to lump committed same-sex couples in with polygamists.

"This matters to people," she said.