Column: Over a Cup of Coffee

Column: Over a Cup of Coffee

My pre-session public hearings are always informative. The hearings help me gauge public opinion on a variety of issues. And constituents provide excellent suggestions on state government.

Thanks to all who participated in my telephone meeting as well as my public hearing recently. I also appreciate the persons who have and who will complete my online survey at One participant at the public hearing at Reston Community Center made a particularly good suggestion. His concern was with discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation and with Virginia’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. He suggested that I and other legislators like me who opposed the same-sex marriage amendment and who introduce bills prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation should have a discussion "over a cup of coffee" with those on the other side of the issue. To hear his testimony, go to I could not agree more. It is one way that mature and responsible adults solve problems. It is the way that political compromises are often reached. It permits serious discussion without the glare of outside influences. Why isn’t it done more, and why are important issues not resolved this way? A number of factors make such discussions difficult.

There are honest, deeply held, different opinions on many issues including sexual orientation. Some uphold their beliefs based on their religious teachings, Bible quotations, and personal biases while others cite the Bible, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and personal experiences to reach entirely different conclusions. These differences are the most difficult to overcome, but sometimes they change. Recently, the Governor of the State of Washington changed her views that had been based on religious beliefs to become a supporter of same-sex marriage. Her statement on YouTube is at and is worth watching.

Other differences are political based on the prevailing opinions of members of a political group. I have had conversations with legislators who have told me that my bill to end discrimination is the right thing to do, but they cannot vote with me for fear of recriminations from their own party. Primary challenges, changes in committee assignments, and unfavorable action on other bills are some of the ways that political bodies enforce their will. The "binding" caucus rule of the House Republican Caucus has been one of the greatest obstacles to reaching compromise on important legislation. The rule requires members to cast their vote with the majority of the members regardless of their personal or constituents’ views or face the consequences listed above.

Another factor standing in the way of understanding and compromise is consideration of who gets credit. Broad-based solutions may seem to take the limelight from individuals who want to get the credit for solving a problem. This is not just a concern for political groups; it is a problem for business and society in general. I learned to forget about seeking credit long ago.

While there are hurdles to overcome, my constituent is correct. More time needs to be spent over a cup of coffee, or in my case, water or juice. Informal conversation can lead to understanding and compromise. The people of Virginia will be the winners!