By Zebrina Edgerton-Malloy
Local gay couples are hoping to reap benefits from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages in Virginia. Gov. Terry McAuliffe hopes the court’s ruling will have the same effect on Virginia’s economy.
The Supreme Court refused to hear a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages almost two months ago.
That decision effectively made same-sex marriages legal in more than 35 states, and meant that gay couples who marry will soon have the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Those benefits include hospital visitation, filing joint income tax returns and the ability to adopt children as a couple.
McAuliffe believes that same-sex marriages can also boost economic development in the state, said Brian Coy, the governor’s press secretary.
“There are a lot of companies out there that have non-discrimination policies for employees and business owners that have the values that we should be open and welcoming to all,” Coy said in a telephone interview. “If we’re going to compete to bring those companies here, we need to project to the rest of the world that this is a commonwealth that is open and welcoming and we don’t discriminate.”
One local business manager couldn’t agree more.
“If people feel free to come here and if they’ll be accepted, they’ll live here and add to the tax base,” said Hunter Mohring, general manager at Healthy Foods Co-Op in Lexington.
McAuliffe signed an executive order last month instructing state government agencies to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“He believes that… Virginians who love each other should be able to get married and have those marriages recognized by the state,” Coy said. “He instructed state government agencies to look through the law and to look through their practices and procedures and make sure that everything is in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision.”
McAuliffe also started a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Tourism Task Force, to further efforts to make Virginia a welcoming destination for visitors.
“The largest sector I think same-sex marriages will help is tourism,” Mohring said. “Virginia would have a larger portion of gay tourist’s funds [because] gay people who are welcome here, they’ll come and spend their money.”
Not everyone locally is embracing the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We, as a church, would not support any kind of same-sex union or marriage,” said Pastor Glenn Kuhar of Lexington Baptist Church. “Our primary reason is … the Bible describes that type of lifestyle as sin. Biblically, we are going to hold to that position.”
Manly Memorial Baptist Church shares a similar stance, says Pastor Michael Wilkins.
“We believe that God loves all people and we are to respect and show kindness to all people,” Wilkins said. “[But] officially, our church is not in favor of same-sex marriages.”
Supporters give their blessing
But several churches in the Rockbridge area recognize same-sex marriages and allow gay couples to marry or have their union blessed.
They include Lexington Presbyterian Church, Rockbridge Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship and R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church.
R.E. Lee Episcopal developed a policy two years ago that allows priests to bless the union of same-sex couples.
The blessing of same-sex unions enables priests to bless couples, regardless of whether they live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal or not.
“We felt morally and theologically obligated to approve a policy that we believe in that would allow the relationship to be blessed if that ever occurred,” Senior Warden Dennis Cross said. “The policy is in place for those who come forward who wish to be blessed.”
Both Rockbridge Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship and Lexington Presbyterian Church allow same-sex couples to have their union blessed or to get married.
Same-sex couples have to go before the church’s local governing board to determine whether a union can take place at the Lexington Presbyterian Church, said the Rev. William M. Klein.
The Supreme Court still has to decide whether to legalize same-sex marriages nationwide. There are still 15 states where same-sex marriages are not legal.
The Fifth Circuit Court has upheld the bans on same-sex marriages and the Sixth Circuit Court has not yet ruled, said Ann Massie, a professor of law at Washington and Lee University. Same-sex marriages are prohibited in several other states, including Arkansas and Missouri.