Del. Ken Plum: Marriage Equality Moves Forward

Del. Ken Plum/File photoAs one who has worked on human rights issues for many decades, I am excited about the positive changes that are occurring at such a rapid pace in laws and in peoples’ attitudes about sexual orientation, especially same-sex marriage.

Most of the people I talk to under age 30 don’t understand why this is even an issue. Unfortunately, because of some of my colleagues in the legislature, action by federal courts will be necessary to bring about changes in the law. As time passes, there will continue to be residual harsh and discriminatory feelings on the part of a minority who cling to the past as there has been with every advance in civil rights, but most will look back in bewilderment over what people were thinking in refusing to grant the same rights to all people.

Virginia’s marriage amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman has been declared unconstitutional, as have such laws in other states including Texas, Utah, and Oklahoma. Those cases will be appealed to the Supreme Court that has already struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

A recent news story indicated that there were 47 lawsuits challenging same-sex marriage laws in 25 states. Same-sex marriages are now permitted in 17 states and the District of Columbia. As Judge Orlando Garcia said in striking down the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, “equal treatment of all individuals under the law is not merely an aspiration it is a constitutional mandate.”

New laws are being introduced in some states to legalize anti-gay prejudice under the guise of religious freedom. Economic boycotts of these states if they adopted such legislation may like in Arizona prevent these bills from becoming law.

Another argument behind this kind of discriminatory legislation is the right of a state to determine its own definition of marriage, but as we learned through the Civil Rights Movement, individual rights supersede a state’s right to decide.

I voted against Virginia’s marriage amendment when it was before the legislature, I campaigned against it when it was on the ballot to be approved by the people, and I voted against it in the referendum. I am pleased that Reston was one of the few communities in the state that voted against the amendment, but I wish there had been more.

Although we seem to be seeing a tidal wave of getting past the laws and taboos that have prevented same-sex couples from marrying, there are many other areas of discrimination against people in the LGBT community that warrant our immediate attention. Governor McAuliffe has signed an executive order against discrimination in state employment, but the legislature needs to enact such a prohibition into state law. Criminal acts directed at persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity need also to be included in the State’s hate crime laws. I have proposed legislation in these areas in the past and will continue in the future.

Marriage equality is an important step forward, but there is more to be done to ensure equal rights for all.

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