RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers pledged Monday to renew their push to make gay marriage legal in Virginia.
"Our marriage laws are becoming more antiquated every day," said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who is supporting legislation that would change the commonwealth's constitution.
Proposed constitutional amendments face a long road: resolutions have to be approved unchanged by Virginia's General Assembly in two separate years with an intervening legislative election, which won't occur until next year, before going to the public for a vote. That means the earliest voters could see a proposed amendment is in 2016.
But speaking at a news conference at the Capitol, lawmakers said the 2014 legislative session was the right time to push for gay marriage as well as other bills designed to make to make the commonwealth friendlier to gays.
Those measures would include banning workplace discrimination for public sector employees and prohibiting the forcing of minors to undergo so-called "conversion therapy," which treats homosexuality as a mental disorder that can be cured.
One of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's first acts after being sworn in on Saturday was to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination of state employees who are gay. Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said legislation is needed to make sure future governors don't overturn that order.
Lawmakers said business groups support job protections for gay employees because it would make Virginia more competitive with its neighbors.
"Virginia needs to be a place that's welcoming, not just for gay and lesbian employees, but to people who want to live in a state where gay and lesbian people are treated like first class citizens," said Ebbin, who is openly gay.
Gay marriage is legal in both Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Pro-gay marriage legislation will face a steep uphill climb in the Republican-controlled House, which has rejected similar efforts following passage in 2006 of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Matthew Moran, a spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell, said GOP legislators are disappointed that Democrats would choose to make "divisive" social issues a centerpiece of their legislative agenda this year.
"Our focus should be growing Virginia's economy and strengthening our schools," Moran said.
But Democratic lawmakers said there is growing public support of pro-gay legislation they are helpful will help change some lawmakers' minds.
"Every year the General Assembly becomes wiser and wiser," said McEachin.