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Washington Blade: Va., Md. gearing up for new legislative session Print


Created:  Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland will consider a number of LGBT-specific bills once their respective 2015 legislative sessions begin next week.

State Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) and state Dels. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) have each introduced bills that would seek a repeal of Virginia's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Ebbin, Surovell and state Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) have also proposed measures that would overturn the commonwealth's statutory same-sex marriage and civil unions bans.

Ebbin in the coming days is expected to introduce a bill that would change gender-specific references in Virginia's marriage laws and regulations to "spouse."

Gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry in Virginia since October after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case that challenged the commonwealth's marriage ban.

Ebbin told the Washington Blade on Wednesday the upcoming legislative session "will really be our first opportunity to properly address the issue to reflect the realities of 2014 and 2015."

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) and Simon have reintroduced bills that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against public employees in state and local governments and in housing. Howell has put forth a proposal that would extend second-parent adoption rights to same-sex couples.

State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) has reintroduced a bill that would ban "ex-gay" conversion therapy to minors in Virginia.

"We know this is going on in Virginia," the Arlington County Democrat told the Blade last month during an interview about a controversial billboard in support of "ex-gay" therapy that appeared along Interstates 64/95 in Richmond. "The role of government is whenever we know there is some danger that's inherent, the government ought to step in."

State Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) has introduced a bill that would allow government officials not to issue a marriage license or other official document based on their religious beliefs. The measure specifically cites "same-sex 'marriage' or homosexual behavior."

"This piece of legislation is extremist, hateful and discriminatory," said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, on Tuesday in a statement. "While we are all entitled to our own religious beliefs, we cannot use those beliefs to discriminate against others. Discrimination is wrong — it's that simple."

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, also criticized Marshall's bill.

"This legislation is nothing more than a state-sanctioned license to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians, including married same-sex couples, simply because of who they are," said Gastañaga. "The bill would do nothing more than reignite the commonwealth's historical hostility toward LGBT Virginians."

Marshall did not respond to the Blade's request for comment.

Parrish told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that he is optimistic McEachin's bill will pass in the state Senate — a similar measure the Henrico County Democrat co-sponsored with Ebbin in 2013 passed by a 24-16 vote margin. Parrish said he expects senators will also approve the second-parent adoption bill if it gets out of committee.

"The House remains a roadblock to equality in Virginia," he told the Blade. "We don't see that changing, but what we do see changing is the number of people's support."

Parrish added the arrival of same-sex marriage in the commonwealth allows Equality Virginia to focus more on efforts to ban anti-discrimination in the state.

"Our capacity can be further strengthened on making sure all LGBT people can't be fired or not hired because of who they are, who they love," he said. "It helps us double down that focus on those issues, which is a good thing too."

Birth certificate bill among priorities as Hogan takes office

Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, on its website identified three issues as top priorities during the 2015 legislative session. These include bills that would allow transgender Marylanders to legally change their gender on their birth certificates and require insurance companies to cover in-vitro fertilization for married same-sex couples.

A third measure would address child custody and parental rights.

Neither of the aforementioned bills has been formally introduced yet.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, told the Blade on Tuesday that she expects each of them will receive a favorable reception in the General Assembly. She noted state Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) now chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but other committee chairs with whom Equality Maryland works are the same.

"The leadership has very much stayed the same," said Evans.

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) this year will chair the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Evans told the Blade she feels the gay Montgomery County Democrat's leadership position on the committee will prove valuable to challenge any potential cuts to social service programs that Hogan may propose once he takes office on Jan. 21.

"We definitely have a very strong advocate and watchdog with him (Madaleno,)" said Evans.

It is highly unlikely Hogan will seek to repeal Maryland's same-sex marriage and trans rights laws, in part, because Democrats maintain control of both houses of the legislature. The governor-elect has nevertheless faced criticism from some LGBT rights advocates over appointments he made to his transition committee after he defeated outgoing Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown in the race to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Blair Lee, a Silver Spring developer who has advised Hogan, in 2012 described gay sex as a "mortal sin" in a column against the state's same-sex marriage law he wrote for the Gazette newspapers. State Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) wrote in an op-ed for the Herald-Mail newspaper before voters upheld Maryland's gay nuptials law that marriage rights for same-sex couples would jeopardize religious freedom in the state.

Hogan on Sunday appeared at an event in Williamsport in Washington County that Shank and state Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County) hosted.

Parrott spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to collect enough signatures to prompt a referendum on Maryland's trans rights law that took effect in October. The Washington County Republican in 2012 attended a rally against the state's same-sex marriage law during which a Frederick pastor claimed Superstorm Sandy struck New York City after then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $250,000 to the campaign defending the statute.

Hogan declined Equality Maryland's invitation to attend its annual brunch that took place in North Bethesda in November.

Evans told the Blade the governor-elect has not scheduled "any meetings yet with anyone."

"It's frustrating, but he's been equal opportunity," she said.

Hogan has repeatedly declined the Blade's requests for comment.