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House GOP again kills voting rights, gay marriage proposals

March 1, 2022 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — For a second time this legislative session, Republicans in the Virginia House have defeated measures that would have sent two proposed constitutional amendments to voters in the fall.

One of the measures voted down early Tuesday in a subcommittee meeting would have let voters decide whether to strip legally outdated language prohibiting gay marriage from the state Constitution. The other would have let voters weigh in on whether to automatically restore the voting rights of felons who have served their terms.

The votes against the joint resolutions were not surprising, given that the same panel defeated House versions of the measures earlier this month. Leadership of the GOP-controlled House had also rebuffed efforts to bring the measures to the floor for a vote. But Democrats and other supporters had urged them to reconsider when taking up the Senate versions.

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The voting rights proposal in particular had garnered the support of an unusually broad coalition of groups that included a religious prison ministry, the Virginia Catholic Conference, the ACLU of Virginia and the Virginia branch of Americans for Prosperity. No one spoke against the resolution at either hearing.

“I am highly disappointed, after years of working on this problem, that the Subcommittee chose this route. Let the people vote,” the resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Mamie Locke, said in a statement.

In Virginia, the governor currently has sole discretion to restore a felon’s voting and other civil rights, such as the right to serve on a jury or run for office.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, who sponsored the gay marriage resolution, told the subcommittee his measure would give voters a chance to remove a “stain” from the state Constitution and permanently enshrine the right to marry.

Faith-based organizations had opposed the measure, advocating for “biblical marriage” or warning that it could open the door to polygamy, which supporters of the resolution called absurd.

Both proposed constitutional amendments passed the General Assembly last year when Democrats controlled the legislature. The measures needed to pass a second time this year in order to go to voter referendums. Failure means supporters would have to restart the process.

The measures were defeated Tuesday by party-line votes.