On March 1, 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland signed a law legalizing gay marriage that will take effect on January 1, 2013. With Governor O’Malley’s pen strokes, Virginia is now bordered by Maryland and the District of Columbia, and shares the Delmarva Peninsula with states (i.e., Maryland and Delaware) with legalized civil unions or same-sex marriage. Given Virginia’s historic role as the capital of the Confederacy, the delay in civil rights for all of Virginia residents should not be surprising.
As the march toward formalized contracts between same-sex individuals in the form of civil unions and same-sex marriage continues, the state of Virginia has been making news of its own as legislators have recently lashed out against women in legislation that can only be described as the legalized sexual assault of women who wish to have an abortion. Isn’t that the term for having your body invaded with something against your consent? But I digress…
It is particularly ironic that Virginia’s long-held tourism slogan is “Virginia is for lovers,” when state policies make it very clear that the tourism slogan should read Virginia is for heterosexual, married lovers. Virginia is one of 29 states with a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. This law in Virginia also impacts contractual relationships and prohibits civil unions and any marriage-like contract between two unmarried individuals. This law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.
The law, which codifies discrimination, matters a great deal, because 2010 census numbers indicated that single Americans make up almost 46% of the U.S. population. The percentage of single women is at the highest point since the late 1800s, with the percentage of single men approaching 1920s and 1930s levels. Clearly, we are becoming a nation of unmarried people. Since 2000, the one-person household is the most common in the U.S. In addition, the number of unmarried individuals that are cohabitating increased 88% between 1990 and 2007.
If marriage and civil union policies in Virginia do not catch up with its neighbors, and states in the Northeast, it will be left behind when businesses are considering expanding into the state. Why would a company choose to build new branches in a state that actively promotes unequal civil rights for unmarried individuals? How do you attract the best and the brightest when people do not want to live in a state that continues the long history of denying certain individuals their constitutional rights?
Based on the current political climate, it seems that the only individuals that the government of Virginia cares about are heterosexual, White, married men. We’ve come a long way baby…except that we haven’t. I fervently hope that I am wrong, but I don’t expect it to change anytime soon.