CommunityPam's House Blend

Virginia delegate shows Dems how to support gay rights

[UPDATE: I received a letter, posted at the end, from a resident of VA who just can’t take any more of this. She and her partner are moving to Maryland.]

Freshman Virginia Delegate David Englin (D-45), is an example of the new kind of Democrat we need to clone. He could have sat quietly as he watched his seasoned collegues pontificated and voted to “protect marriage” from gays and lesbians, but he did not.

This Fighting Dem, who was on duty inside the Pentagon when it was attacked on September 11 (and served in the Air Force, stationed in the Balkans), stood up and put his thoughts into the record.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this resolution.  I’m not going to talk about same-sex marriage.  I’m no fool — although others might make a different judgement about a freshman delegate rising in this chamber on the third day of session.  But I understand that on the issue of marriage, I’m in the minority, perhaps even in my own caucus.  I also sleep very well at night knowing that at some point in the future of this great Commonwealth, those of us of my opinion will be judged to have been on the right side of history.  But let’s for a moment forget about the question of same-sex marriage, because this amendment addresses much more than that.  We need to be clear and honest:  This amendment also outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar private legal arrangements.

We have heard from the other side that this constitutional amendment is necessary to protect conventional marriage.  I am blessed with a beautiful and brilliant wife who is the love of my life.  In June, Shayna and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and I would fight with every ounce of my strength anything that would threaten my marriage.  So I would like to know, how exactly civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my marriage?

We have heard from the other side that this amendment will protect families.  Shayna and I are blessed with a strong and bright six-year-old son, Caleb, and we have a strong family.  My friend the gentleman from Rockingham County, Delegate Lohr,  and I have discussed how we come from different backgrounds and different parts of this great Commonwealth, yet we share a deep and abiding commitment to our families.  I want nothing more than to protect my family.  I spent 12 years wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force to protect my family.  I’ve been in harm’s way to protect my family.  So I would like to know, how exactly do civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my family?  Because if they do, I will be the first one to stand up and fight, because nobody better threaten my family.

Moreover, we have heard from the other side that this amendment must pass sooner rather than later, as if there is some kind of crisis that is more important than issues like transportation or education or health care.  Why else would this be our first order of business?  Yet Virginia law already makes same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnerships illegal.

So if this amendment doesn’t help protect my marriage, and doesn’t help protect my family, and if it doesn’t even change the status of same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnership contracts, then what exactly does this amendment do? I submit to my fair-minded colleagues that this amendment sends a message.  And that message is, if you are gay, or lesbian, or even a man and a woman living together and committed to each other who are not married, you are not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And who are these people whom we are shutting out in the cold? They are my dear friends Karen and Sue, who have been together for years and are as loving and committed to each other as any husband and wife.  They are my friend Lou, who served with me at the Pentagon, and continues to serve our country today.  They are Father Mychal Judge, the gay priest who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 while ministering to fallen firefighters.  They are Mark Bingham, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought back against Al Queda hijackers and sacrificed his life to save others.  They are Ronald Gamboa and his partner Dan Brandhorst, who, along with their 3 year old son David, were killed when Al Quaeda flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center.  They are David Charlebois, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon when Al Qaeda tried to kill me and my comrades who were on duty inside the Pentagon at the time.  They are friends and neighbors and teachers and doctors and soldiers and loving parents who want nothing more than to live life without fear that the government will tear their families apart.

I’m a student of history, and I find our Founding Fathers to be a great source of wisdom on many matters, so I want to close my remarks by reading from a letter that great Virginian named George Washington wrote more than two centuries ago:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind . . . a policy worthy of imitation.

 All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.  For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, be strong and of good courage and vote down this resolution.

This speech should be sent to every spineless Dem on the Hill who has refused to take a solid public stand for gay rights. We need allies who are unafraid to stand up to the bleating AmTaliban and frame this issue properly – they need to shame their colleagues who lick the boots of the Dobson crowd. Look how easily Englin pointed out the illegitimacy of the fringe-Right’s arguments that are always wrapped in a cloak of homo-baiting in order to distract voters from the issues that really matter. It’s time for that to stop.

If these Dems cannot think of what to say, they have no excuse now — tell them to crib from Englin’s text, as well as the eloquent words of Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson, who spoke out last year, when that state debated a marriage amendment — and she knew her views were in the minority.

It’s shameful that Democratic leadership continues to flounder on this issue when there are talented people in the lower ranks — rising Dems the establishment zombies desperately need to learn from and promote.

Hat tip, DKos diarist lowkell.


UPDATE: I received an email from a reader, KittenSnu, and she’s been planning to leave Virginia over the bigoted laws being enacted there; she’s in a district represented by an unresponsive wingnut (big surprise).


I read your blog, fairly often. I have have to share something with you…since Friday, I’ve had this sick feeling. I know my partner and I have to move to Maryland after growing up in Northern Virginia, starting my business here and was planning on retiring.

I have grappled with this sorry state we are in and have not been able to find the words. Until yesterday morning. We can’t stay here and fight because that would mean one of us would have to die and the other would shoulder the burden. So instead, we are moving. Giving my taxes to some other state.

I am worried, concerned and most of all offended. You see I wrote my delegate 3 times. And no response, each time. I used my name, address and still not even a generic response.

He disgusts me.

Then I read your blog. And I know he may not know it, but my delegate is going to get copies of that speech. And if I had the addresses, I would copy it and send it to every democrat in the Commonwealth of VA.

Actually, I think I just might do that. I could at least channel my energy somewhere…

So, anyway, thanks for putting it there, I never would have found it on my own…

* Mel Watt: reframing gay rights

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding