The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Marriage equality is not safe in Virginia. Youngkin knows that.

Spencer Geiger, left, of Virginia Beach, and Carl Johanson, of Norfolk, demonstrate Feb. 4, 2014, outside the federal court in Norfolk. (Steve Helber/Associated Press File Photo)

Adam P. Ebbin, a Democrat, represents Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties in the Virginia state Senate.

In a July 10 interview on “Face the Nation” with Robert Costa, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) outlined a doomed proposal to ban abortion care after 15 weeks, discussed a potential presidential bid and offered his thoughts on same-sex marriage.

In addition to his troubling comments on plans to limit abortion access, I was concerned by his comments on the status of marriage equality in Virginia.

During an alarming period in which the reactionary wing of the Republican Party has unmasked its brazen homophobia and swiftly moved to insert it into the policies and laws of states across our country, LGBTQ Virginians deserve honest and full-throated support from their head of government.

Nationally, it is clear there is a bull’s-eye on the LGBTQ community; so it was disappointing to hear Youngkin, when pressed on whether he intended to protect marriage equality, erroneously reply, “In Virginia, we actually do protect same-sex marriage in Virginia. That’s the law in Virginia.”

Let’s set the record straight. Since the passage of the infamous 2006 Marshall-Newman Amendment, Virginia’s Constitution has explicitly banned same-sex marriage. A statutory ban on same-sex marriage remained in the Code of Virginia until it was repealed in 2020. But the U.S. Constitution remains preeminent, meaning the thing protecting marriage equality in Virginia is the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. As the new Supreme Court has lurched to the extreme, Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion overturning the right to bodily autonomy protected by Roe v. Wade, outlined the rights he believes should be toppled next: stating all rights born from the right to privacy are “erroneously decided” and “errors” to be “corrected.” These rights include same-sex relationships, the right to birth control and the right, decided in Obergefell, to same-sex marriage.

In February, Youngkin’s Republican House majority killed Del. Mark Sickles’s (D-Fairfax) and my amendments to repeal the stain of the Marshall Newman Amendment on our Constitution and replace it with an affirmative right to marry regardless of gender.

The governor is either incompetent in his understanding of Virginia law or made the deliberate decision to obfuscate his plans for LGBTQ rights in his statement. Though his administration has hit some stumbling blocks early in his tenure, I would have hoped that he has at least read and understands our Constitution. The governor knows marriage equality is hanging on by a thread — both in the commonwealth and across the nation — and his disingenuousness and lack of leadership on this issue put LGBTQ Virginians at risk.

If Obergefell is overturned, there will be irreparable harm to LGBTQ couples. Our humanity and our relationships will be deemed illegitimate by the law. Additionally, we will lose the myriad rights that marriages ascribe to families, including the legal ability to jointly adopt a child into a loving home, to make medical decisions for your spouse, to inherit property and file taxes jointly.

Though I am disappointed by Youngkin’s statement, I can’t feign surprise. As a candidate, Youngkin refused to support marriage equality. He supported discrimination against transgender students and stoked fears over LGBTQ-affirming literature in his quest for office. The governor has shown a desire to cloak his less popular, more conservative policy stances from the public, something made more concerning by his inaccurate statement on “Face the Nation.” At a fundraiser on the campaign trail last year, Youngkin told his supporters that “I’m gonna be really honest with you, the short answer is, in this campaign, I can’t [address abortion],” but “when I’m governor, and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense [on abortion].” Since taking office, he has done exactly that, pushing aggressively to limit access to reproductive health care.

The governor knows marriage equality is popular: More than 70 percent of Americans support it. So his track record of shying from unpopular positions he holds until an opportune moment strikes should not be overlooked.

However, if the governor truly believes marriage equality should be an assured right in Virginia, it is time for him to take action. As the leader of his party, he need only make a few phone calls, and an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing marriage equality would pass the General Assembly to be sent to voters.

Until he takes that action, we should not take him at his word.