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Social issues likely to take back seat in 2014

One big difference for socially conservative legislators who want to advance bills aimed at further limiting access to abortion service next year is that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) supports abortion rights and would likely veto any such bill.

However, with a 2-to-1 Republican majority in the House of Delegates and a 20-20 state Senate, legislation design to increase access to abortion rights is not likely to go anywhere either.

While the General Assembly is at a stalemate on that social issue, legislation intended to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Virginians is not likely to pass out of committee in either chamber and legislation designed to further limit rights for LGBT people would likely be vetoed.

"It definitely will be much harder to get important social legislation through," said state Sen. Dick Black (R-13th), one of the most socially conservative members of the General Assembly.

Black said during a phone interview last week he has not introduced "anything that would be considered a social measure, a social issues measure, but I do sit on the Senate Education and Health Committee and we hear all of the bills dealing with abortion and many of the controversial issues come up there. And I tend to be very conservative on these issues."

The cornerstone issue for LGBT advocates will go through the state Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections when it takes up state Sen. Adam Ebbin's (D-30th) bill to repeal the constitutional amendment banning any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

No one who represents Prince William County in the state Senate sits on that committee, which is controlled by an 8-7 Republican majority.

One of those members, state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-6th), is due to resign his seat next month when he becomes the next lieutenant governor.

However, Northam is likely to be replaced by state Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-100th), who supports same-sex marriage although he voted for the constitutional amendment against it previously.

Lewis is favored to defeat Republican nominee Wayne Coleman, who opposes same-sex marriage, in a Jan. 7 special election.

The Privileges and Elections committee is chaired by state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26th), who entered this week in a recount battle with state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd). The state Board of Elections certified Herring the winner of the attorney general race over Obenshain by 165 votes but Obenshain is contesting the result.

What this means for same-sex marriage is that the bill likely will not make it out of committee, let alone be subjected to a vote by the full state Senate.

That is because there is a Republican majority in the committee, none of the Republicans on the committee are publicly in favor of same-sex marriage, and the chairman of the committee is a Republican.

Even if the attorney general election results were reversed and Obenshain won, his district is so heavily Republican, it's unlikely that a Democrat would win it even in a special election. Democrats didn't contest Obenshain's second re-election run in 2011 or his initial run in 2003.

Obsenshain defeated Democratic nominee Maxine Hope by almost 41 percentage point in 2007.

Even though he doesn't sit on the committee, Black mentioned unprompted his opposite to the bill sponsored by Ebbin, the first openly legislator ever elected to the state Senate.

While Black said he's worked with Ebbin on other issues, he likened same-sex marriage to polygamy and incest.

"I don't think it can really be redefined," said Black about marriage. "I think you can enact legislation that there's marriage that's not based on a normal physical union of two people but you can have people who very much desire to marry a first cousin and government says you can't do that."

Speaking about exclusively supporting marriage between one man and one woman, he later added that "I don't have to justify my position because my position is justified by the entire scope of human history since the beginning of time."

Although Black opposes both same-sex marriage and polygamy, he cast polygamy in a more favorable light than homosexuality.

"When you talk about polygamy, at least it functions biologically. I think you can make a stronger argument for that and certainly there have already been initiatives for there to say that polygamist marriages should be authorized also."

Continuing on polygamy, Black said, "It's just more natural" than homosexuality.

"You actually have cultures over history that have permitted it," said Black. "You really don't have cultures that have permitted same-sex marriage. So this is an extension and I think it would be very difficult over the long run to deny polygamist marriages if you're saying love is the foundation" of same-sex marriages.
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