RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Recent comments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin are raising questions about the future of same-sex marriage rights in Virginia. It comes as some fear the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court could reverse federal protections.
When Youngkin was asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday if he would take steps to protect same-sex marriage at the state level, Youngkin said, “We actually do protect same-sex marriage in Virginia. That’s the law in Virginia and therefore, as governor of Virginia, we protect same-sex marriage.”
Delegate Danica Roem, the first openly transgender lawmaker to serve in the General Assembly, said that’s not entirely accurate.
“That’s misleading the public at best if not an outright lie at worst,” Roem said.
Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter pointed out that lawmakers removed language from the Code of Virginia prohibiting same-sex marriage in 2020.
But earlier this year, House Republicans blocked a proposal that would’ve given voters a chance to get rid of a separate ban that remains in the state constitution. It was approved in a ballot referendum in 2006.
Roem said the prohibition is currently unenforceable but that could change if the high court reverses course.
“The Governor and the House Republican majority didn’t allow us to fix that problem this year. Therefore, yes, marriage equality is under threat in Virginia,” Roem said.
In an interview with the Associated Press before his election, Youngkin reportedly didn’t explicitly express support for same-sex marriage but he acknowledged it was “legally acceptable” in Virginia.
Porter didn’t take a stance when asked if Youngkin supports removing the ban from the state constitution.
“This is a process driven by the legislature. The governor has no formal role in amending the constitution,” Porter said.
Diversity Richmond’s VA Pride Program Director James Millner said LGBTQ+ advocates want to see Youngkin take a firm stance to protect their rights.
“The Governor’s comments are interesting, not for what he actually said, but for what he did not say. The governor did not say that he holds or believes that same-sex marriage should be protected in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Millner said. “There is a lot of anxiety in our community right now.”
In a recent interview, Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears also side-stepped questions on whether she would support a ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia if the Supreme Court paved the way for that type of policy.
“The Supreme Court has already said that that’s not going to be part of the issue. That’s a whole other thing that’s totally different from abortion,” Sears said. “I’ve been on the record as saying that, when it comes to civil unions, I’m all for that.”
Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman said civil unions are not the same as marriages because they don’t entitle partners to certain federal benefits, such as filing taxes jointly, and they aren’t recognized state-to-state.
Asked a second time to clarify if she would support a ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia, Sears said, “You’re always wanting to bring in these other things. I mean, we could be talking and no matter how I say it, you change it on me and you make it seem like I’m trying to say something that I’m not trying to say. I said I support the civil union.”
That wasn’t enough to ease the fears of Millner.
“The lieutenant governor seems to be wanting to create two classes of legally recognized relationships in this state, which is unfair, it’s discriminatory and it’s not the same as marriage,” Millner said.
That couldn’t happen unless the Supreme Court strikes down federal same-sex marriage protections, which would send the decision back to states.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, at least one conservative justice said they “should reconsider” past rulings, including the right to same-sex marriage.
In his concurring opinion in support of scrapping federal abortion protections, Justice Clarence Thomas said justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”
Some experts still think that’s unlikely. Other conservative justices, like Justice Samuel Alito, repeatedly insisted that their decision on abortion rights poses no threat to other precedents.