by Elizabeth Wong, Associate Director
The recent vote to legalize marriage for same-sex couples in New York came as a shock to many and is no doubt a great victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates.   The New York Times reports that New York is the sixth and largest state to give same-sex couples the ability to marry, and the new law will double the number of Americans living in jurisdictions where such marriages are permitted.
The vote may represent a tide change in the U.S., and LGBT advocates are hoping to use the momentum to secure similar victories in other states.  Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a realist and I understand Virginia will probably not be the next state to make the leap forward toward marriage fairness.
Just five years ago, Virginia was in the middle of the debate over the Marshall-Newman constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  Despite being one of the more overreaching state constitutional amendments, it passed with 57% of the referendum vote.  As a result, Virginia’s Constitution currently prevents same-sex couples from marrying, prohibits the recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages performed in other localities, and even forbids legal recognition of any relationship that “intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage.”
There is hope, however, that the winds are changing in our still socially repressive Commonwealth.  A recently released Quinnipiac University poll finds that only 52% of Virginians oppose gay marriage. Meanwhile a Washington Post poll released in May shows that only 43% are opposed.
What’s even more promising is that among Virginia voters under 35 years of age, a  strong 63% support marriage for same-sex couples.
Equality for sexual minorities is perhaps the most important civil rights issue of today.  For most of us in the millennial generation, LGBT equality is a no-brainer because we can plainly see the injustice and unfairness in discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.  Whatever stigma was once attached to being gay eludes us, so marriage equality just seems obvious and opposition to it seems small-minded and backwards.
It may be some time before Virginia’s legislators become enlightened on this issue, and public opinion makes the full turn, but one day Virginia will follow New York’s example and legalize marriage for same-sex couples.  It is as inevitable as the once controversial civil rights proposals that require equal treatment based on race, religion, national origin, gender and disability.