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02.03.15 -- McAuliffe: Va. has ‘made tremendous progress’ on LGBT rights

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday reiterated his belief that the commonwealth over the last year has seen “tremendous progress” on the expansion of rights to its LGBT residents.

“We have made tremendous progress,” said McAuliffe during an Equality Virginia reception at the Library of Virginia, which is a few blocks away from the Statehouse in downtown Richmond. “We have a long way to go.”

McAuliffe made his remarks hours after Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam cast the tie-breaking vote in the Virginia Senate that allowed Senate Bill 785, state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County)’s measure that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against local and state government employees, to pass. The same chamber on Tuesday by a 20-18 vote margin also approved gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s measure — Senate Bill 1211 — that would add gender-neutral references to the commonwealth’s marriage laws.

“It was a good day here in the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Northam during the Equality Virginia reception.

McAuliffe also referenced the Governor’s LGBT Tourism Task Force to which he appointed Ebbin and others last month as a way to expand the industry that generates $21 billion a year for the state’s economy. Charlottesville Pride Community Network President Amy Sarah Marshall, GayRVA Editor Brad Kutner and Blacksburg Town Councilman Michael Sutphin are among those who will also sit on the advisory body.

“We need to be making sure that Virginia at the end of the day is open and welcoming to everyone,” said McAuliffe. “That’s how we grow and diversity our economy.”

’We’re going to keep up the fight’

The governor’s remarks coincided with the annual Equality Virginia Lobby Day, which took place roughly four months after gays and lesbians began to legally marry in the commonwealth.

Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday noted he was in Norfolk a year ago “putting the finishing touches” on arguments against Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman that the state was about to make to U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in the lawsuit that Tim Bostic and Tony London filed against it in July 2013.

Herring said Allen issued “a great opinion” 10 days after the oral arguments took place in the Bostic case. Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia last October after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to accept a petition from the defendants who had appealed the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld Allen’s decision.

“We won again,” said Herring.

McAuliffe less than a week after gays and lesbians began to legally marry in Virginiaannounced that same-sex couples could now adopt children in the state.

Virginia Register Janet Rainey last month announced the state will now list married same-sex spouses on the birth certificates of any children they have while together.

“We’ve issued formal opinions and worked with agencies to make sure those rulings were implemented smoothly and correctly in all kinds of areas,” said Herring. “We’re going to keep up the fight.”

Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, a lesbian couple from Winchester who legally married in D.C. in 2011, have a daughter who was born the following year. They were also the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the marriage amendment the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We have always been a two-parent family,” said Berghoff on Monday in a statement. “Victoria has always been as much Lydia’s mother as I have, and we are thrilled that Lydia will finally have a birth certificate that reflects that reality.”

’There’s a lot more to do’

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee last week killed state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County)’s so-called “conscience clause” bill that would have allowed state licensed or accredited business owners to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs.

Equality Virginia on Jan. 29 launched a campaign with statewide advocacy groups in North Carolina and South Carolina that is designed to highlight LGBT-friendly businesses in their respective states. Advocates and pro-LGBT officials alike concede, however, barriers remain to extending rights to LGBT Virginians.

The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Jan. 23 killed state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County)’s bill that would have allowed second-parent adoptions in Virginia.

The Senate Education and Health Committee on Jan. 22 tabled state Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth)’s measure that would have banned “conversion therapy” to minors in the commonwealth. The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee six days later killed an identical bill that state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Alexandria) introduced.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Jan. 14 killed state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington County)’s bill that would have required state police to collect and report data on anti-LGBT hate crimes. The vote took place three days before Lamia Beard, a transgender woman of color, was shot to death on a street in Norfolk’s Park Place neighborhood.

Lawmakers during the 2015 Legislative session have also killed bills that sought to repeal the marriage amendment and to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in housing.

SB 785 and SB 1211 both face an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, which has traditionally proven more hostile to pro-LGBT measures than the Senate.

“We still have to make the case there are other pressing issues,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during an interview in his Richmond office. “Without the community being as engaged and active, it’s not going to happen.”

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, agreed as he opened his organization’s lobby day at the Library of Virginia.

“We all know there’s a lot more to do,” he said.