For those in the LGBTQ+ community, there are still challenges ahead. Legally, Virginia law doesn’t prohibit the discrimination of gay people in areas of housing or employment. Gay seniors are ducking back into the closet as they enter conservative nursing care. Homosexual (and pansexual and gender queer and transgender…) teens still feel ashamed to be themselves, even in our changing times. In this issue, we explore what it’s like to be gay in our area—from teenagers and minorities to senior citizens and those seeking a safe haven to practice their faith. Most of the people we spoke with agree there’s a lot of work left to do, but the progress is undeniable. We profiled a same-sex couple who waited a long time to get the state’s stamp of approval, who married after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in October 2014 that would have reinstated the ban on same-sex marriage. Their message —and the message of so many others—is clear: No matter the struggles still to overcome, #lovewins.
Proud to party
Join the LGBTQ+ community Saturday, September 19 at Lee Park for the fourth annual Pride Festival. From 11am to 6pm, take in live music (rock, hip-hop, singer-songwriters, drums), attend an interfaith ceremony or participate in a Buddhist prayer and check out more than 70 local vendors’ giveaways and activities. There’s even a children’s play area with a book nook from Barnes & Noble, a bouncy castle, free face painting, balloons and buttons. Can’t get there? There’s a free (limo!) shuttle—so no excuses. Visit cvillepride.org for more information about the festival and other opportunities to let your rainbow flag fly throughout the weekend.
Have we met?
Despite its small-town feel, Charlottesville’s dating scene is versatile
Gay, straight, man, woman, trans, what have you—putting yourself out there and intentionally sitting at a bar with a stranger can be hard and, frankly, exhausting. We sat down with Mr. Pride of America Jason Elliott, who happens to live here in town, and picked his brain about his perspective on dating in Charlottesville as a gay man.
Elliott, a health counselor at the Virginia Department of Health and Pride of America pageant winner, has his share of story-worthy dating experiences just like the rest of us, like the guy who pulled a single orange rose out of his shirtsleeve at dinner and traveled across the state to retrieve a bouquet of bacon roses for Elliott for Valentine’s Day.
“Dating in Charlottesville can be as uptight and stressful as you want it to be, or as relaxed and carefree as you want it to be,” says Elliott.
He describes the Charlottesville area dating pool as “versatile,” and notes that whether you’re into the grungy look, outdoorsy girls or wine-wafting guys in bow ties, chances are you can find your people in this town.
Despite its versatility, though, Charlottesville is a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and as a single person looking for someone to date, the one degree of separation between everyone is definitely a double-edged sword. Elliott isn’t on Tinder or Grindr (anymore), but he says if he were, he would expect to constantly swipe through familiar faces—dated that guy, know someone who slept with him, work across the hall from this one, etc.
On the other hand, the ever-expanding web of who knows whom in this town means that friends and colleagues can vouch for each other and make introductions that might not happen otherwise.
“It is a small community, so people know people. All the time, people say, ‘Hey, you should meet so-and-so.’ ‘I think you would like so-and-so,’” he says. “It’s definitely kind of a referral basis around here.”
And that’s part of why, for him, meeting in person is more preferable than chatting someone up on a screen.
“I put a lot of stock in getting to know someone face-to-face,” he says. “I think there’s a lot to be said about the nonverbal communication cues and what someone’s aura is.”
And, speaking of Elliott’s dating life, you can learn a little more about it in an upcoming BBC documentary, which followed him going out on a date with a trans woman.
So where exactly can you meet fellow eligible LGBTQ+ singles in this town? We’ve got a few suggestions for you.
Escafe is the obvious one on this list, but Impulse Gay Social Club has also been making a name for itself. A nonprofit social club located on Emmet Street, Impulse holds special events like burlesque and drag shows, and of course a dance floor and liquor license.
Like online dating but for groups, meetup.com will match you with other people in the area who have similar interests. For example, the CVille Lesbian Outdoor Group, currently 46 members strong and regularly active.
This might go without saying in the annual Pride Issue, but the Saturday, September 19 festival will be a prime spot for meeting people of similar interests. Whether it’s someone manning the Derby Dames booth or the cute stranger in the grass next to you watching the performances, you never know whom you’ll meet—and extra points if she has a rainbow butterfly painted on her face.
Unless you’ve been living (and dating) under a rock, you’re probably already familiar with OkCupid, Tinder and Grindr. But what about the apps specifically for queer women, like HER and Dattch? Or Hornet, which allows you to have both public and private photos on your profile? Or u2nite, the quick-to-use app that suggests safe, neutral meeting places for you and your matches? Don’t rule out the whole world of online dating based on a few (okay, several) horror stories you may have heard.
“Somewhere you never go”
Jason Elliott’s dating advice is to go somewhere completely new. Force yourself to sit down at a bar where you’re not a regular and won’t be tempted to gravitate toward the people you already know.
Prime Timers Central Virginia
This private membership organization allows “mature” gay and bisexual men to get together for social events and general support. Shared interest groups within the organization include antiques, gardening, bowling, cooking and sports.
Being gay and black is twice the challenge
The LGBTQ+ community in Charlottesville has become increasingly more vocal and active over the past several years. And as a city with a complicated African-American history, there’s a lot to discuss when it comes to race and discrimination here. But what about where those two minority communities overlap?
“There’s not a large LGBTQ+ minority community here,” says Albemarle High School teacher and youth mentor Wes Bellamy. “And whenever you don’t have an affinity group, other individuals to relate to and identify with, that makes it difficult.”
Being gay is still pretty taboo in some African-American communities, Bellamy says, and he wonders how many racial minorities remain in the closet for that reason. So much of it stems from cultural upbringing, he says, but he can’t help getting frustrated when he encounters homophobia among a minority group that is still battling for its own civil rights in a lot of ways.
“How can you be African-American, with the history we have in this country, the way we were mistreated and still are mistreated, and still look at somebody else who’s different and say they don’t deserve the same rights?” asks Bellamy. “After all we’ve been through being different from the majority.”
According to the Office of Human Rights Community Outreach Specialist Charlene Green, who’s worked in the fields of diversity coordination and human rights for 20 years, it’s crucial to remember where everyone at the table is coming from.
“I have a deep respect for where people come from religiously, and I think that’s really important to consider,” Green says. “I try to engage people about different aspects of diversity, and people’s belief systems and values affect how they make sense of things. To pay attention to that, to me, is really important.”
Green notes that in a larger city, due to the sheer number of people, LGBTQ+ minorities are more likely to have access to an array of support groups. Charlottesville has come a long way in terms of services available to all minorities, Green says, but she and Bellamy agree that there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“We’re moving forward,” Green says. “Not at break-neck speed, but we’re moving forward.”
For Tasia White, though, Charlottesville is a breath of fresh air. As a 24-year-old black lesbian living in Staunton, White says she doesn’t have many gay (and certainly not black and gay) friends in her area—she comes to Charlottesville as often as she can, and she’s been overwhelmed by the amount of support she’s found here. A rapper whose stage name is Lady Taij, White originally began visiting the area to perform in shows, and she says she found people here to be much more receptive to what she does.
“I ended up doing the Harrisonburg pride festival, and that’s when everything opened up,” she says, adding that she’d never been to anything like a pride festival until then, despite being an openly gay woman who came out as a teenager. “And I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are so welcoming and loving and accepting. Where have you been my whole life?’”
White will perform at the Charlottesville Pride Festival on Saturday, September 19. Although she’s never made much music about her life as a gay woman before, she now she feels much more compelled to do so.
“Now it’s time to make music for this crowd. Really dig deeper, talk about who I am as a lesbian woman and what I go through,” she says. “I know other people are going through the same thing, and I didn’t really feel that way in Staunton.”
Love thy neighbor
Local religious institutions address same-sex marriage
The reaction of faith-based organizations to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that made same-sex marriage the law of the land has been as diverse as the spread of churches themselves, from conservative institutions that consider homosexuality “an abomination” to those that see it as another example of God’s love.
Locally, that spectrum ranges from Sojourners United Church of Christ, whose core value is that of “radical welcome,” according to Pastor Melanie Miller, to Lighthouse Charlottesville, which has Pentecostal and Apostolic ties, the same movement to which non-gay-marrying Kentucky clerk Kim Davis is a member.
Even among Baptists, reactions vary. First Baptist Church on Park Street, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, added a statement about where it stands on same-sex marriage to its bylaws after 98.4 percent of members voted to do so, says the Reverend Don Hicks. “We were not willing to cut out of the Bible what God has said, that marriage is between a man and a woman.” If the church didn’t have it in its bylaws and someone wanted to have a wedding there, “that could be a problem,” he says. And although homosexuals would not be hired to work at the church, says Hicks, they are welcome to worship there.
University Baptist Church Senior Minister Michael Cheuk says, “At this point, we don’t have a policy. As a Baptist church we have members on both sides of the issue.” University Baptist is a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which Cheuk describes as “a more moderate Baptist church.”
Sojourners is known for its “universal message of love” toward the poor, people of color, gays and the “differently abled,” says Miller, and she suspects the church draws more “people who live on the margins.”
In 2006, the same year Virginia passed its constitutional amendment mandating that marriage was between a man and a woman, Sojourners decided its pastor would “officiate no weddings until it could officiate all weddings,” says Miller. The belief was that the law was unjust, and the congregants didn’t want their pastor acting as “an agent of the state,” she says.
Since the Supremes radically reversed that amendment, Miller says she’s performed five same-sex couple weddings, three of them in the church sanctuary.
“I think in a world that’s increasingly black and white, increasingly polarized, Sojourners recognizes that life and love are messy,” explains Miller. “We see gray areas all around us. In the midst of the messiness of life, we try to live out God’s love by providing compassion and hope to those who need it.”
Churches are not the only religious institutions grappling—or not—with the issue of same-sex marriage. In July, Eastern Mennonite University announced it was adding “sexual orientation” to its nondiscrimination policy and changed its hiring policy, which will allow those in a same-sex marriage the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
The reaction to the change in hiring policy, says university spokesperson Andrea Wenger, was mixed, with “those who are celebrating and those who are disappointed.”
Wenger says the decision was the result of years of conversation about the issue, and the Supreme Court ruling was not the driving factor. “Last year we had two faculty members leave,” she says, “one because we were talking about it, and one because it was not happening fast enough.”
What has not changed is the school’s celibacy policy set forth in its Community Lifestyle Commitment that everyone, including single faculty and students, is expected to sign. That, says Wenger, “is very actively criticized.”
Local private schools with religious ties vary in the hiring of gay faculty. At Tandem Friends School, which is rooted in Quaker beliefs, homosexuals teach there and they and their spouses receive benefits. Ditto for St. Anne’s-Belfield, which has historical ties with the Episcopal church, but has not been religiously affiliated since 1985, according to spokesperson Beth Stefanik.
Covenant School provides a “traditional, Christian liberal arts and sciences education,” according to its website. Headmaster George Sanker did not respond to four phone calls. Four of five board of directors members contacted also did not return calls. A message left for board President Craig Colberg at the school was also not returned.
And there hasn’t been any change at the Charlottesville Catholic School, says Catholic Diocese of Richmond Director of Communications Diana Snider. “When we hire teachers, we emphasize that we’re a Catholic school,” she says. “As part of employment, they’re expected to uphold the teachings of the church.” Thus, the hiring of gay faculty “probably wouldn’t happen,” Snider says.
“The church promotes marriage between one man and one woman. A Catholic wouldn’t be able to be married to someone of the same sex in the Catholic Church.”
Struggles and successes
A new generation of gay teens
*Writer’s note: Seniors Mac Callan and Charlotte Campbell are officers in the Queer & Ally club—formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance—at Albemarle High School. Callan, the president, is female to male transgender, and prefers using masculine pronouns to describe himself. Campbell, a pansexual, is a vice president of the club and is most comfortable with using the pronouns “they” and “them,” but for the clarity of this article will be identified using feminine pronouns.
Being a teenager in a time when same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states and transgender role models like Caitlyn Jenner have their own reality television shows is something only today’s youth have witnessed. Though national acceptance makes being LGBTQ+ easier, some say it sure doesn’t make it easy.
Albemarle High School senior Mac Callan is inspired by the trend of transgender women like Jenner and Janet Mock advocating for their own rights. He says he wants to join them in inspiring the trans community—but doesn’t always feel comfortable in his own skin.
“I’m more ashamed of myself,” he says, having grown up with internal transphobia, which he is actively working to combat. An avid viewer of Mock’s MSNBC web show, Callan saw her speak at UVA last year. “Seeing another trans person being respected by an entire crowd of people was incredible for me.”
Although senior Charlotte Campbell agrees that being gay in today’s world is easier, she still feels shame for being different.
“Growing up, I was under the impression that being gay was a bad thing,” says Campbell. “Like hetero is the norm and if you’re homo, something’s wrong with you. I’m happy with myself from time to time, but if I really think about it, deep down, I’m still kind of ashamed.”
Campbell, who struggled with identity in middle school, found a family of similar souls within the Queer & Ally club at AHS, which provides a safe place for LGBTQ+ students. The club also organizes different school events, like the Day of Silence, in which people who support the LGBTQ+ community don’t speak for a day.
Allies are increasing. Like Q&A, Charlottesville High School has a similar club called PRISM, and a local organization called ROSMY provides services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Lyndele von Schill, whose daughter is a lesbian, helped found the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She estimates that about 266 students enrolled in city schools and 888 students enrolled in county schools identify as LGBTQ+. To get this number, she multiplied the total number of students in each school district by 6.5 percent, which is the number of LGBTQ+-identifying youth in America, as stated by a Gallup poll.
Campbell says she was most proud to be gay on the day the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage constitutional, but least proud that same day, when a Facebook user said something was wrong with her—she must have been abused in her past and that God didn’t make her that way.
“Once I was shot down, it just kind of killed me,” Campbell says. “Even though gay marriage is legalized, there’s still going to be homophobia.”
Gender: Psychological identification
Gender queer: Identifies with both genders, not necessarily gay or straight
Non-binary: Identifies as neither man nor woman
Pansexual: Attracted to the soul of a person, not the genitalia, regardless of gender
Sex: Physical identification (anatomically male or female)
Transgender: Someone who is biologically born one gender but identifies with the other
Transsexual: A transgender who has undergone a medical procedure to transform from one gender to the other
What it means to be a gay senior citizen
While millennials are rooted in a culture that at least acknowledges the idea that it’s okay for two people born of the same sex to love each other intimately, this can’t be said of older generations. Born in 1947, 68-year-old Linda McNeil remembers first questioning her sexual orientation and gender identity when she was about 12 years old, at a time when, she says, “we didn’t even have words for this.”
McNeil identifies as gender queer and pansexual.
As a queer senior citizen, McNeil is proud of the progress her country has made, and says she feels a part of many different groups, including the larger LGBTQ+ community and the Charlottesville Unitarian Universalist Church. As one of the key church members who made hanging the rainbow banner, which reads “We support same-sex marriages,” outside the church possible, McNeil calls this accomplishment one of her “proudest moments,” saying it’s a “huge deal, even in supposedly blue Charlottesville.”
Because she identifies differently than the majority of people her age, she says she still feels, at times, reluctant to identify herself fully in conversations with certain people, for fear of their discrimination toward her.
“I still feel that in the pit of my stomach sometimes,” she says, remembering the fear of coming out to her boss during her career as a teacher and the amount of bravery it required. “I could’ve faced serious consequences—bodily harm, slashed tires, defacing of my home.”
McNeil feels that employment and housing are two areas in which the LGBTQ+ community is heavily discriminated against.
According to Doris Gelbman, a lesbian and an elder care attorney in Charlottesville, many LGBTQ+ senior citizens have similar fears, particularly when it comes to choosing a nursing home. Some local homes are affiliated with religious organizations, which Gelbman says can be difficult for gay people.
“They may not be very comfortable with a church organization because they’ve been condemned in a church,” she says.
Gen Silent, a documentary about the oldest generation of the LGBTQ+ community, will be screened at the Senior Center on September 20, and Gelbman will conduct a Q&A after the film.
Describing the film, she says, “The first wave of activists that worked for gay rights took a lot of risks coming out of the closet. Now that they are much older and retiring and entering nursing care, they are having to go back into the closet in order to be comfortable or in order to be treated at all.” Though the film features seniors living in Boston and New York, she says this worry rings true locally as well.
Some LGBTQ+ seniors were raised with traditional Christian backgrounds, too, making the relationship between their faith, preconceived notions of homosexuality and their own sexual orientation difficult.
Susan Scofield, a 53-year-old lesbian, says it took her almost 20 years to come out because she had been raised a Baptist Christian and was convinced that being gay was a sin. She met her first girlfriend while attending a conservative “Bible college” in Tennessee and says she wrestled with her thoughts and feelings for a long time.
“Of course the sex won,” she jokes.
Scofield feels discriminated against in more ways than one, because she is lesbian and also confined to a wheelchair. She says she’s faced discrimination in job interviews, for her lack of accessibility to public places and because of her sexual orientation. However, she says she’s still celebrating the Supreme Court’s June ruling for marriage equality, calling it “a vindication for all the injustices of being treated as a second-class citizen.”
She says she felt a surge of pride when she learned Oliver Sacks, a brilliant neurologist who wrote about the brain and who died in August, was gay, too.
“Come out of the closet, folks,” she says. “There is strength in numbers.”
The waiting game
Aaron Eichorst and Darren Pace adjust to a new reality
Aaron Eichorst, 43, and Darren Pace, 44, committed themselves to each other 22 years ago. But marriage became a waiting game for the couple, who weren’t sure when to start considering getting married outside of Virginia, in a state that recognized gay marriage. Fortunately, Virginia legalized marriage before the couple abandoned their hopes of marrying in-state, and the pair was married May 23.
For Eichorst, the chances of a Virginia marriage looked slim, and he was shocked when the ruling passed last October.
“It was just euphoric,” Eichorst says, “It was wonderful.”
Thinking back on the couple’s life together, Eichorst reflects on the sense of belonging and community that was missing from their life together. It was this feeling of acknowledgment and acceptance that made the legalization so important to him.
“After living as this sort of second status for such a long time, to feel included in [the community] is the most significant thing that I felt,” Eichorst says. “…that feeling of belonging and that I’m secure in the same way that other people’s relationships would be.”
This sense of security surpasses just the community level. As Eichorst notes, it also has visible benefits on the couple’s life together outside of the home. Recalling a recent trip to Europe, Eichorst describes the process of going through customs and how unmarried couples must by default go through customs separately.
“We’ve been living in this second tier for such a long time that sometimes I forget,” Eichorst says. “And I just forgot that I didn’t have to go in a separate line from my husband anymore.”
As the couple looks toward the future, Charlottesville remains in the cards for them. Both Pace, a systems coordinator for State Farm, and Eichorst, coordinator of fine and performing arts for Charlottesville City Schools, feel firmly invested in their careers and personal lives in Charlottesville.
Overall, the couple’s plan is “just to contribute to Charlottesville and Charlottesville’s cultural side…” Eichorst says. “Growing old here.”
The wait is over for André Hakes and Catherine Gillespie
For years André Hakes and Catherine Gillespie had a Valentine’s Day tradition: They’d go to the Charlottesville clerk’s office and ask for a marriage license. And they’d be denied.
As soon as they heard that gay marriage had been legalized in Virginia, they set out to tie the knot October 6, 2014, waiting for the moment that the Charlottesville Circuit Court would start issuing licenses. After years of asking the court to grant them a marriage license, the couple was one of the first same-sex couples to be married in Virginia. For Hakes and Gillespie, both 44, it had been a wait of 19 years.
Gillespie and Hakes will celebrate 20 years together this fall. As Gillespie remembers the couple’s early life, she recalls Hakes saying, “Well, I don’t know if I want to get married. I just want to wake up one day and realize that we already are.”
Gillespie feels the same way and says that once they were officially hitched it went by quickly: “There we were on the court steps getting married and then it was over. … We finished the laundry we had started, and it was back to married life because that’s what we already had.”
What the couple didn’t have was the paperwork and the ring to prove it. Although Hakes and Gillespie knew they wanted to be married for a long time, both felt strongly that it be done in Virginia. Hakes especially, being a Virginia attorney, wanted it to be done in-state. “Charlottesville is my home and it’s my place,” she says. “I didn’t want to go somewhere else and get married and then cross the border and have it not count.”
“We thought they were going to have to wheel us down the aisle by the time gay marriage was legalized,” Gillespie adds, laughing.
Not only was the couple surprised by the legalization, but Gillespie notes how comforting the symbolism of the ring was after going without one for so many years.
“It says, ‘You’re not married,’ and that wasn’t true of me,” she says. “I had been in a committed, loving relationship for 19 years, and I had no outward symbol that that was my status.”
Asked about plans for the future, Gillespie jokes, “I’ll probably do some laundry this afternoon,” but later states that their plans are just like everyone else’s: “Pay off our mortgage, send our kid to college, retire successfully—everybody’s plans.”
Both agree that moving is not in the picture.
“I love that our son is here in Charlottesville,” Hakes says. “This is all he knows. He’s a local and I love that.”
Journey to healing
For Brian McCrory and Benjamin King, now the real fun can start
For Brian McCrory, 35, and Benjamin King, 37, the right to legally marry lifted a giant weight. Although McCrory says they have been married in the eyes of family and friends since October 12, 2013, it wasn’t until a year later that the state recognized their marriage.
The two have known each other for 13 years and have been a part of each other’s lives since young adulthood. Although they didn’t start dating until TK years later, they knew each other well, and McCrory says that once they knew they wanted to get married they didn’t hesitate.
“I think we married faster than most people would have,” he admits. “I mean, we got married within six months of knowing we wanted to.”
Despite considering themselves married since 2013, the legalization of McCrory and King’s marriage last October was an incredibly healing experience for the couple. McCrory, thinking back on his childhood, discusses his strong religious upbringing and both the joy and pain his religion brought to him. More than anything, McCrory recalls feeling relieved when he heard gay marriage was legal.
“I remember I was at work when I found out,” he says, “and I just cried. I cried and cried. It was a huge hurdle that had been looming over me and my life and it was more meaningful than I ever anticipated it to be. … [I felt] so much more like a real person.”
Although McCrory admits that he still finds it difficult when unknowing coworkers ask him questions about his wife or girlfriend, he is optimistic about a bright future with King. The couple hopes to live a life colored by their shared experiences in foreign countries and cultures.
As McCrory puts it, their plan is “to see more of the world, experience other cultures and sort of find our place in it.”
One year later, gay marriages skew feminine
On October 6, 2014, gay marriage was legalized in Virginia when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Same-sex couples could legally marry here, and marriages of Virginia couples outside the state were recognized. Nearly a year later, Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville have recorded approximately 130 same-sex marriages. Combined, city and county have recorded 88 female same-sex marriages since the ruling and fewer than half that number of male same-sex marriages, a trend that is reflected nationally. Here’s how the numbers shake out.
The average number of same-sex marriages in Albemarle County and Charlottesville per month since October 2014.
The number of same-sex marriages in Albemarle County since October 2014. Of those, 36 were between two women and 19 were between two men.
The number of same-sex marriages in Charlottesville since October 2014. Of those, 52 were female couples and 23 were male.
The number of married female same-sex couples in the United States, which accounts for 53 percent of the total number of same-sex couples (according to the 2013 American Community Survey released by the United States census).
On the books
Equality under the law in Virginia
For years, Virginia, a state that enshrined heterosexual marriage-only into its constitution, had a brain drain of often highly trained professional gay couples who emigrated to places where they would not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled states can’t prohibit same-sex marriages, everything is hunky-dory and everyone has equal protection under the law in Virginia, right?
“We currently have laws against discrimination in Virginia,” says attorney Doris Gelbman. “It just doesn’t cover gay people.”
She lists employment and housing as areas with no protection. “What it means is my employer can fire me because I’m gay or they perceive I’m gay and I have no recourse. I can be evicted from my apartment and it’s legal.”
Around 13 or 14 states, including Maryland, have added sexual orientation to their anti-discrimination laws, she says. Not so in Virginia.
“We don’t have a nondiscrimination clause in employment,” says House Minority Leader David Toscano.
He foresees a couple of things that should happen in the upcoming General Assembly. In light of the Supreme Court decision, Virginia’s Code Commission is going through the books to clean up language like “husband and wife,” he says.
What the Code Commission can’t clean up: the constitutional amendment. To do that, the legislature must vote twice with an intervening election and then it would go on the ballot, explains Toscano.
Toscano, a Democrat, predicts some controversial moves in the January legislative session. “I think the conservative wing is going to push a number of issues not directly attacking marriage, like the so-called religious freedom laws, to write them into code and attempt to frustrate the Supreme Court decision.”
He mentions Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who has cited her religious beliefs as reason to not issue marriage licenses to gay couples. “First, the Supreme Court is clear: The clerk is an instrument of government and has to abide by the rule of law. That’s pretty clear. It gets a little hazier with private businesses.”
Adds Toscano, “I don’t support using religion as a way to discriminate against people.”
What about the other three delegates, who are all Republicans, representing Albemarle County in the General Assembly?
Delegate Matt Fariss, Rustberg resident and co-owner of the Lynchburg Livestock Market, did not return multiple phone calls. On his website, he says that he’s “first and foremost a Christian family man” and will fight “liberal policies” that will put the rights and freedoms he’s been blessed with in jeopardy. So we’d guess he’s not a same-sex marriage supporter.
Delegate Rob Bell says he has no plans to carry any legislation to amend prohibitions against gays currently on the books. Asked if the Supreme Court decision was a mistake, Bell points out, “I supported the constitutional amendment.”
He says he anticipates some religious freedom bills.
Delegate Steve Landes says he’s waiting for the courts to resolve issues like religious freedom before racing to change the laws in Virginia. “There’s a debate among religious denominations about whether they have to marry same-sex couples,” he says. “The courts have to definitively decide what can occur based on religious beliefs. We generally don’t make changes until all things have played out in court.”
Some conservatives have reconsidered their opposition to same-sex marriage in recent years. Landes says, “I have my own individual beliefs as for what the Bible says and what my religion says.
“We take an oath to abide by the state’s constitution and the federal constitution, and those are in conflict,” he continues. “The courts have set up a conundrum with how they look at the First Amendment and the 14th. In the end, Virginia has to try to comply with what the courts determine.”
–Samantha Baars, Laura Ingles, Lisa Provence and Cara Salpini