Jun 22, 2012

From the Chair: Progress and Challenges

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Maggie SacraWe live in exciting times. LGBT people have experienced a renaissance of acceptance over the last few years. Just a few years ago, Virginia voters passed one of the most encompassing and negative amendments to a state constitution regarding LGBT rights in the country. Simply put, the Marshall-Newman Amendment not only said that marriages and civil unions performed in the Commonwealth were not recognized, but marriages and civil unions performed legally out of the state would not be recognized either. It didn’t stop there though and made contractual agreements that “mimicked” marriage illegal. Fast forward just six years and we have seen the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and successful challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act at the U.S. District Court and U. S. Court of Appeals levels. The most recent ruling occurred in New York, just this month on June 6th.

One of the most profound developments recently was May 9th when President Obama openly stated that he believed that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry. This was the first time a sitting president, not to mention one in an election year, openly supported marriage for all couples. President Obama has moved our fight for equality to a new level with his bold stand. Partially because of his leadership, a quintessential civil rights group, the NAACP, resolved on May 19th to support marriage equality as well. The bolster by both the President and the NAACP has already seen an average increase of 6-7% in polls of African-Americans supporting marriage equality. A poll by Public Policy Polling reported on June 10th a 48-point swing in African-Americans supporting marriage equality in Florida polling. The impact of this support is gratifying and invaluable.

All is not perfect in our fight however, as many states have laws and state constitutional amendments banning civil unions and gay marriage, including a bitter blow that just occurred in North Carolina. Now it appears that opponents of Maryland’s recent law allowing marriage for all couples have the signatures to bring the vote to ballot in November. This means that two states, Maryland and Washington, have ballot initiatives to overturn legislative decisions made this year to allow marriage equality, and one, New Jersey, is fighting to overturn a veto by Governor Chris Christie (R). Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the blatant discrimination against City of Richmond Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, Tracy Thorne-Begland. Mr. Begland was nominated to the bench in Virginia with bi-partisan support, but was rejected by the General Assembly on May 15th simply because he is gay. The gross injustice of this failure to promote a proven and fair prosecutor to the bench was not lost on the Democratic delegation to the General Assembly, many of which discussed their disappointment and disgust with the proceedings with me personally.

The tide is with us however, as more and more people across the country support marriage for all couples, equality in adoption, non-discrimination in housing and employment, and overall equality in all rights. Just this month on June 1st and 2nd the Democratic Party of Virginia made important steps forward by stating publicly that they support marriage equality. First on June 1st, the Steering Committee of the DPVA voted unanimously to support Chairman Brian Moran’s signature on the Freedom to Marry “Majority for Marriage” pledge. Then on June 2nd, the state convention voted to pass a resolution on marriage equality penned and supported by the LGBT Democrats of Virginia.

I was pleased and proud to be in attendance as a member of Steering and as a delegate to the convention to vote for both. I was also honored that Chairman Moran made a special effort to talk to me after Steering about his request to sign the Freedom to Marry pledge. He was extremely proud to be able to stand up for what he believed in and said to me “It is simply the right thing to do.” His hope that he expressed to me was that he would influence the chairs of state Democratic parties across the country that had not already signed on to the pledge. My hope too is that with Virginia Democrats taking a strong stand for marriage equality that other state parties may follow, but also that our state will move to correct its wrong and reverse the Marshall-Newman Amendment.

The LGBT Democrats of Virginia are working every day to make sure the voices of LGBT citizens across our Commonwealth are heard by the party and by our elected officials. We are excited to support great Democratic candidates at every level that believe in equality and fairness for all LGBT Virginians. I hope that you will help us as we work hard across the state. Please follow our upcoming newsletters, posts, and updates for more information about how you can get involved and bring about change that will keep us moving Forward.

Maggie Sacra
LGBT Democrats of Virginia Caucus