Marriage by any other name may or may not smell quite so sweet to some same-sex couples in Virginia, and Democratic candidates for delegate in the 45th District — including segments of Arlington and Alexandria— pitched a broad range of opinions on the issue Thursday night. During a candidates' forum in Alexandria, candidate Jim Lay, an attorney, said he would seek other language, affording the same rights marriage offers but without the traditional label.
"We have to find different language, words that don't elicit passion from the other side," Lay said.
The forum was hosted by the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club. Candidate Laura Mandala, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said she supported using the term marriage. As did former Air Force officer David Englin. In what he called a "safe district" for Democrats, Englin said there's no point in holding back.
"The term marriage does matter," Englin said. "Given that this is a safe Democratic seat, it is critical that we elect someone who will fight for our progressive values. We need to be the voice of strong opposition."
CANDIDATE AND former delegate Richard Hobson, who represented Alexandria from 1976 to 1980, said to win expanded rights for same sex couples in Richmond, fighting over language may be a losing battle.
"As a matter of tactical party positioning, if we're going to win this battle, we're going to have to accommodate religion," Hobson said.
Candidate Elsie Mosqueda, legislative director for Del. Brian Moran (D-46) disagreed, saying Democrats shouldn't compromise their beliefs. Arlington School Board chairwoman and candidate Libby Garvey seconded Mosqueda's opinion. Religious arguments against same sex marriage, Garvey said, don't necessarily follow biblical teachings. There are, she said, 40 uses of the term "marriage" in the Bible. Only two refer to marriage between a man and a woman.
"One of them says that if a husband dies, his wife is supposed to marry his brother," she said. "I think it's interesting that we've come to a point where society is actually trying to prevent people from entering into committed relationships."
Asked what they have done to help gays and lesbians in the local community, candidates pointed to a wide array of qualifications. In the Air Force, Englin said, he wrote articles and spoke out publicly against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policies that kept a lid on homosexuals in the armed forces. Mosqueda served as the director of public relations for the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry and has a long background in equal rights activism. Garvey pushed to improve counseling to gay and lesbian students in Arlington's public schools. Hobson voted for the Equal Rights Amendment to Virginia's constitution as a delegate. Mandala was active in getting the pro-choice group NARAL restarted in Virginia, but her passion for social justice, she said, is what sets her apart.
"It's the passion I've always had for the disenfranchised that keeps me going," Mandala said.
LAY SAID in his work he emphasized his belief in equality before the law in his work as a prosecutor.
"As a prosecutor, I didn't have the luxury of seeing if someone was rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat," Lay said. "There is one law. It applies to all people at all times."
On how to advance the rights of gays and lesbians in Richmond, the candidates each put forth a different approach. Mandala said the best arguments in her eyes are not political or religious. They are financial.
"If we can demonstrate the loss of revenues and the loss of human capital when people start leaving Virginia because their human rights aren't respected, we can make a business case," Mandala said.
Garvey said she plans to work with Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49), an openly gay member of the General Assembly, to build alliances with others in the House. She also plans to meet with conservative lawmakers throughout the state to foster new relationships.
"It's all about finding common ground," she said. "But, there are a number of people who are just plain afraid."
Moderate Republicans, according to Lay, will play a pivotal role when it comes to the future of gay rights in the Commonwealth.
"The fight is really in the middle," Lay said. "The only way to get your bill out of subcommittee is to convince them to do the just thing, not the easy thing."
Mosqueda's strategy, she said, is one of forging relationships in Richmond. But to affect change, she said, she plans to encourage gay rights groups to campaign in the capitol against bills like House Bill 751, passed in April of 2004. The bill banned same-sex unions in Virginia and nullified any similar union established in other states.
"I want to make sure that the same legislators who support this kind of destructive legislation can put a human face to it," Mosqueda said.
To Hobson, the repeal of HB 751 — put forth by Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) — is a top priority.
"I'm really of the opinion that 751 was unconstitutional, unfair and absolutely wrong,” Hobson said.