By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
Throughout state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s decade-long tenure in Richmond, the openly gay lawmaker focused on securing equality for LGBT Virginians.
Until last week, that meant pushing for the repeal of the commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriages. But with the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalizing such unions, the senator from Del Ray is determined to install broad protections against discrimination of LGBT residents.
“It’s exciting and I’ve had to remind myself that this is not routine,” Ebbin said of last week’s landmark decision by the Supreme Court. “The way the courts have been moving, ever since [the Defense of Marriage Act] was repealed, the process seems routine. But it’s an amazing step forward.”
That “amazing step forward” echoed across the nation. Rather than accept appeals of lower courts’ decisions striking down gay marriage bans in states like Virginia, the Supreme Court decided against taking up the issue.
As in the commonwealth, same-sex couples in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin now could head to a courthouse and receive legal recognition of their status. Though the decision drew plenty of criticism, most local same-sex couples took advantage of the sudden opportunity.
In Alexandria, Dawn Turton and Beth Trent headed straight to the city’s courthouse. They were the first to receive a marriage license, though they had celebrated their relationship with a commitment ceremony in 2011.
“I hope this doesn’t sound cheesy, but I love my state,” Turton told the Times last week. “I was going to wait until Virginia was ready.”
Like Turton, Ebbin has been waiting.
“I remember when people were talking about a federal gay marriage ban, and I spoke out against it back in 2004 — it was one of my first speeches on the House [of Delegates’] floor. If you had told me that within a decade that marriage equality would be available in the law, I would have seriously doubted you.”
Ebbin is a trailblazer, the first openly gay lawmaker elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 2003. Although the high court’s ruling is a big boost, he said it does not drastically change his legislative agenda. He already has filed legislation ahead of January’s session codifying same-sex marriage in state law.
“That may seem like a no-brainer for my constituents [in Northern Virginia], but other members, particularly in the House, may resist, so it may not happen as quickly as it should,” Ebbin said. “The state code and constitution need to reflect current law and the reality of how our society operates.”
Although many things that come with marriage are being dealt with administratively by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) office, from insurance benefits to adoption rights, Ebbin said the commonwealth need stronger anti-discrimination laws.
“There are so many more areas where equal treatment remains unaddressed,” he said. “Discrimination still exists, and I hope we don’t lose sight of that. Currently, there’s nothing stopping someone from getting fired for entering a same-sex marriage, and that’s troubling.”
Such protections already exist for state employees thanks to a McAuliffe-signed executive order, but Ebbin plans to sponsor legislation — as he has done in previous years — applying those same rules to employers across the commonwealth.
“One of the reasons I got involved in politics in the first place was the poor treatment of LGBT people,” Ebbin said. “[In] other parts of Virginia, gay people are not as well accepted. … And people who are transgender are far more discriminated against than lesbians and gay people, arguably.”
Though he is quick to turn his attention to the next challenge in the fight for LGBT rights, Ebbin acknowledged how far the movement has come.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Virginian advocate of LGBT equality,” he said. “To see things coming to fruition in one regard, to see history being made.
“I’ve known so many people who moved out of the state to get married or to qualify for joint-parent adoptions, it’s nice not to have to be embarrassed by my state or see friends go to D.C. or Maryland.”