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01.08.15 -- Lawmakers work to advance LGBT issues under ‘new reality’

For years, a number of legislators in Virginia have been trying to create more protections and legal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people in the state, with little legislative success.

Virginia’s constitution and state code still technically bans same-sex marriages and civil unions, although enforcement of those laws was halted last year when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to a lower court ruling that overturned the state’s position.

Legislators also have been unable to pass legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. State employees do have those protections under an executive order from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

During the upcoming General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 14, some local lawmakers are hoping to correct those inconsistencies and create clarity for the state’s newly married same-sex couples.

“It’s a different world,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Dist. 30), of Alexandria, said. “People are getting married. It’s no longer just a proposal, but a reality that we need to deal with.”

In a minor proposed change that reflects that new reality, Del. Dave Albo (R-Dist. 42) has introduced a bill that would require court clerks to list parties as “spouse,” “bride” or “groom” on marriage certificates, based on the couple’s request.

Ebbin has introduced a bill to repeal the prohibition in Virginia code on same-sex marriages and civil unions, as well as one that would start the multi-year process of amending the state constitution.

To amend the state constitution, the General Assembly must pass the change in two different sessions, with an intervening election, and then the measure would go to a public referendum.

In the House of Delegates, matching legislation has been introduced by Dels. Scott Surovell (D-Dist. 44) and Marcus Simon (D-Dist. 53) and cosponsored by a handful of other Northern Virginia and Richmond delegates.

Surovell has also introduced the constitutional amendment in the House.

Reston Del. Ken Plum (D-Dist. 36), who is one of the co-patrons of the bill removing the prohibition on same-sex marriages, has also introduced a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state employment practices.

Simon has introduced a bill that would add protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s fair housing law. Licensed Realtors already agree to such a provision as part of their code of ethics, he said.

If that bill fails, he said, he has another proposal that would require a study of the issue. Many people believe that it is “a solution in search of a problem.”

“We have a history of discrimination in Virginia, historically,” Simon said. “I think it is important for Virginia to improve its branding as a place that is forward-thinking.”

Despite the different circumstances created by the court decision, Ebbin said he still believes these bills will have a tough road during this session.

“This is not an easy piece of legislation,” Ebbin said of the constitutional amendment. “There are still members who would oppose this. We’ll find out how many when we get votes.”