Coming out of almost nowhere, Virginia has risen as a critical state in the nationwide gay marriage fight to grant gay women and men the right to marriage.
The state, once perceived as unfriendly and even bordering on hostile towards gay rights, has changed after a seismic political shift in the top three elected offices, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans who support gay marriage.
Two federal lawsuits challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage are moving forward, and a hearing on one of the cases is scheduled for Jan. 30 per the Washington Post.
With the recent court gains in both Oklahoma and Utah, gay rights advocates are happy to say the least about the new outlook in Virginia. Symbolically as well, they say, the challenges of the state’s gay marriage ban resonate because of the founding state’s history of forming a barrier between the church and state, and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple and a past indiscretion: interracial marriage.
“Virginia is one of several important battlefronts where we have the opportunity now to build on the momentum, embrace the public’s movement in favor of the freedom to marry and end the discrimination,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of New York-based Freedom to Marry, which seeks to have same-sex marriage bans struck down nationwide.
With the election of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, the state made a turn away from the past socially conservative officeholders, in particular Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an activist on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Herring had campaigned on the premise of marriage equality, and McAuliffe issued an executive order on inauguration day prohibiting discrimination against state employees who are gay.
With the gay marriage fight continuing to make waves across the country, a Quinnipiac University poll in July discovered that 50 percent of registered Virginia voters are in support of same-sex marriage, while 43 oppose it.