RICHMOND — In light of the Supreme Court’s affirmation of gay couples’ right to marry, Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell on Friday dropped his opposition to changing the state code to reflect what has been a reality in Virginia for months.
Gay couples began to legally marry in Virginia in October, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this year declined to pass legislation to change state law, choosing instead to wait for action from the court.
“I have been a longtime supporter of traditional marriage and am naturally disappointed by today’s Supreme Court ruling,” Howell said in a statement Friday. “However, our nation is governed by the rule of law and we must respect the authority of the Court.”
Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) sent a letter to Virginia’s Code Commission asking for an evaluation of what, if any, future changes are necessary to bring state law into compliance with the high court's ruling.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe previously ordered state agencies to amend their policies for married same-sex couples, allowing them to adopt children and enjoy the benefits of being married for tax purposes.
During this year’s General Assembly session several lawmakers filed bills that would have scrubbed the state code of references to “husband and wife” in exchange for the gender-neutral term “spouse.”
At the time Howell saw no need to change the code, saying the “lack of a clear and definitive answer from the Supreme Court” created legal uncertainty about gay marriage.
James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, noted that as a result those bills went nowhere.
“This is something we were asking them to do during the session since we’ve had freedom to marry since fall 2014,” he said. “We are going to take this to mean they now are going to start moving forward to recognize the landscape of marriage in Virginia and updating the code.”
However, only the General Assembly — and voters — can remove language banning gay marriage from the state constitution.