RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A push to protect same-sex marriage passed a key test in the U.S. Congress this week as state lawmakers plan to revisit an effort to remove a defunct ban from the state constitution.
Right now, same-sex marriage is legal nationwide but supporters say taking these steps would defend that right if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its previous decision, as it did with abortion.
A bill cementing some protections for same-sex couples appears poised to pass in Congress after 12 Republicans in the U.S. Senate sided with Democrats on a critical procedural vote, which allowed the debate to move forward after months of stalling.
“It would be one of the most important civil rights bills signed in the United States in the last quarter century,” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said shortly before the vote on Wednesday. “I’m just praying that we do the right thing and we get this bill to President Biden’s desk.”
Even if Biden signs the bill into law, it won’t guarantee all of the rights that same-sex couples currently have across the country. The legislation would require states to recognize all marriages that were legal when they were performed. However, if the Supreme Court struck down federal marriage equality, the bill would not require states to continue to perform same-sex marriages. States would be able to pass laws restricting same-sex unions within their borders.
That’s part of the reason why state Senator Adam Ebbin is reviving a push to get rid of a currently unenforceable ban in Virginia’s Constitution, which was approved by voters in 2006.
“It’s time to remove this stain from the Constitution,” Ebbin said.
Constitutional amendments have to pass in the General Assembly for two consecutive years with an intervening election before going to a ballot referendum. State lawmakers were one year into that process when House Republicans killed the proposal in the 2022 session.
Ebbin said some raised concerns that the amendment, which passed with bipartisan support in 2021, would inadvertently pave the way for polygamous marriages. He said Democrats will clarify that language before revisiting the effort in the 2023 session.
“We’re going to give them a chance to do the right thing and several have indicated that they would lean towards doing the right thing,” Ebbin said.
Statewide Republican leaders, including Governor Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares, declined to comment on Friday. Miyares voted against the constitutional amendment as a Delegate in 2021. Sears has previously expressed support for civil unions, which are not the same as marriage. Youngkin has avoided explicitly expressing support for same-sex marriage.
Republicans representing Virginia in Congress also declined to comment but several have voted against efforts to protect same-sex marriage in the past.
“Marriage is between one man and one woman,” Congressman Bob Good tweeted in July.
Supporters of the bill in Congress are hoping to get the legislation to President Biden’s desk before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in the new year.