Sep 6, 2015

Our Vote and Our Voice Matters

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On election night in 2013, Virginians went to bed with a key race still up in the air. For many LGBT voters in the Commonwealth, the race for Attorney General was a nail-bitter. Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain would take turns carrying the lead over the days immediately following the election, but Herring held a lead of just 165 votes (equivalent to less than 0.01%) when all ballots were counted. The lead widened after the recount was concluded, and Obenshain conceded on December 18, 2013. The final tally is a sobering reminder that every vote counts. Just 907 votes, or about 0.04% of all votes cast, delivered a winning scenario for democrats that the party had not experienced in over four decades.

That win played an interesting role in fight for marriage equality in Virginia. Two marriage equality cases were already in progress when anti-gay Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli turned over the keys to the office, so to speak. Herring admitted during the campaign cycle that he had not always been “comfortable” with the idea of same-sex marriage, but he made time to talk with friends, family, constituents and Virginia voters. By the time he was sworn in, Herring’s stance on marriage equality was a mirror reflection of the changing tide in favor of treating LGBT citizens fairly.

Just a few days after taking office, Herring announced that he would not defend the so-called “Virginia Marriage Amendment” that was challenged by the cases moving through the court system. According to a January 23, 2014 Washington Post article, Herring shared his thoughts in a press conference about the decision saying, “I believe the freedom to marry is a fundamental right and I intend to ensure that Virginia is on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

It was a turning point. Herring was the center of national attention, and the fight for marriage equality in Virginia gained a critical ally. By saying that he would support the couples that had filed lawsuits, he opened the door for Virginia to be the first “old-Confederacy” state to allow same-sex marriage. If marriage equality could become reality in the south, anything—including a coast-to-coast freedom to marry—was possible.

As the story goes, anything is possible, and we no longer talk about “living in a marriage equality state.” We instead talk about living in a “marriage equality nation.” We owe much to many who helped us get here, but we have a particular vested interest in Herring’s September 2 announcement that he is running for reelection as Attorney General in 2017. He has proven to be a champion of equality during his time in office, and he will almost certainly continue to be during his second term.

While we look ahead to the next statewide election cycle, it’s important to remember that there is a lot more to Virginia politics than just the races for the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor. Virginia has an election every single year. There is someone somewhere who needs equality-minded voters and supporters to pay attention every…single…year, including this one.

It matters who represents us in the Virginia General Assembly. It matters that we fight against anti-gay extremists like Republican Delegate Bob Marshall and State Senator Dick Black. It matters that we canvas for candidates who say they will fight for our families. It matters that we get involved locally and help elect people who believe in constituent service and who believe “We the People” means all people.

We will soon be announcing the candidates we have endorsed for office. These individuals took the time to undergo a lengthy and thorough evaluation of their commitment to LGBT equality. The continued success of the movement towards full equality—including measures that protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination, bias in housing, and the refusal of services—depends on people taking note of and getting involved in every election, every year. We cannot allow the excitement over our most recent victories to temper our resolve. When a race is decided by a margin of about 0.04%, as was the case with the election of Attorney General Mark Herring, we all need to take note and recognize that our vote, and our voice, matters.