VA Dems send bill protecting same-sex marriage to Youngkin’s desk

VA Dems send bill protecting same-sex marriage to Youngkin’s desk

A crowd gathers at the U.S. Supreme opinion after its ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states was delivered on June 26, 2015. (Photo via Shutterstock/Rena Schild)

By Isabel Soisson

February 23, 2024

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is set to weigh in on legislation addressing the legality of same-sex marriage in the state before April 17. 

The Democratic-controlled Senate and House of Delegates have passed Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 174, respectively, companion bills that seek to enshrine the legality of same-sex marriage in Virginia.

Lawmakers introduced these bills in the event that the US Supreme Court reverses its landmark 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, something that’s been theorized could happen following the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, another landmark case. 

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently criticized Obergefell v. Hodges in a five-page statement explaining why the Supreme Court rejected a request to hear a Missouri case that involved people being removed from a jury after voicing religious objections to gay relationships. Alito wrote that the case “exemplifies the danger” of the 2015 decision. 

Alito added that the ruling shows how “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”

In addition to his recent comments, Alito and his fellow Justice Clarence Thomas, who have both been the subject of corruption scandals within the last year, both dissented from this 2015 ruling at the time, and appear to be urging the Supreme Court to reconsider it. 

“Virginians across the political spectrum have taken heart to see these bills receive bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who introduced the bill in the Senate, said in a statement. “I hope Governor Youngkin will sign this critical legislation to create state-level protections for all Virginians regardless of who they love.”

The bills would make it so marriage licenses must be issued to any two people seeking a “lawful marriage,” regardless of gender, race, or sex. The bills would also make it so Virginia recognizes these marriages as valid, but does include a stipulation that gives clergy members and religious organizations the option to not participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The bills are mostly symbolic, as the Virginia Constitution supersedes state law. Democratic lawmakers are still attempting to repeal the constitutional same-sex marriage ban Virginia voters approved in 2006.  Enforcement of the ban was blocked in 2015 when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage, but it could be put back into effect if the Court reverses its decision in that case. 

To repeal the constitutional ban, Virginia lawmakers would need to pass a constitutional amendment in 2025 and 2026. The question would then be put to voters on the 2026 ballot. 

In 2020, Virginia Democrats repealed a statutory prohibition on same-sex marriage, but did not replace it with an affirmative right to marry. This is why these bills were introduced in the first place: to clear up any uncertainty about what might happen to same-sex marriage in Virginia if Obergefell v. Hodges is overturned. 

The bills now head to Youngkin’s desk, where he will decide whether or not to sign them before the General Assembly’s reconvened session in April, when lawmakers return to consider his vetoes and amendments. 

Youngkin’s office told the Virginia Mercury on Wednesday that the governor “will review any legislation that comes to his desk,” but did not specify further where he stands on SB 101 and HB 174.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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