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Republicans block constitutional amendments on gay marriage, voting rights

Building with columns in front
Crixell Matthews
The steps leading up to the Virginia State Capitol. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

On Tuesday, House Republicans in Virginia put a stop to two proposed constitutional amendments that Democrats had been fighting for.

The Democrat-controlled legislature voted last year to strip Virginia’s now-defunct gay marriage ban from the state’s constitution. It defines marriage as between one man and one woman. They also took up a slew of criminal justice proposals, including a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to people who were previously incarcerated for a felony conviction.

But on Tuesday, a GOP-led committee cut both proposals short.

Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) was in tears when she told committee members why getting rid of the marriage amendment is so important.

She said she and her partner of 19 years have struggled to gain acceptance from their conservative Catholic parents.

“My entire life, all I ever wanted to be was married and my entire life, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. You really can’t understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where you knew you didn’t mean anything to anyone,” she said.

The “no” vote came after emotional speeches from Adams as well as Del. Mark Sickles (D-Arlington), also openly gay, who explained how offensive the language is to LGBTQ Virginians.

In 2015, The U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning same-sex marriage. But with the prospect that the high court could reverse the landmark decision, conservatives want to keep it in writing.

Lawmakers also took up a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of people who were previously incarcerated for a felony conviction. Republicans obstructed that measure Tuesday, despite its bipartisan support and a deluge of favorable testimonies from liberal and conservative groups.

​​Richard Walker had his rights restored in 2012. He heads the reentry program Bridging the Gap. He said he was “disgusted” by the vote. Speaking to VPM, he recalled the haunting words of a Virginia state Senator during a constitutional convention 100 years ago.

“Carter Glass indicated in that convention that by keeping these individuals from voting, it’s a means and a ways to keep the ‘Darkies’ out of our government. And it hasn’t been revoked, repealed since then.”

Republicans did not expand on their reasons for the “no” votes on either of the bills. 

Virginia lawmakers are required to approve a proposed constitutional amendment two years in a row. If it passes, voters take it up in a referendum.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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