’’Witness for Love’’ Arrives in Arlington
A group of about 30 people, including faith leaders of various denominations, gathered outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, April 25, to protest Virginia’s same-sex-marriage ban and to urge legislators to take the steps needed to put that ban on the ballot in hopes of repealing it.
Every year since Virginia voters approved the constitutional ban, the Marshall-Newman Amendment, in 2006, a group of dedicated individuals has trekked to local courthouses throughout the state to demonstrate their support for marriage equality.
Many of Friday’s participants are affiliated with the group People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), which has taken the lead in organizing such demonstrations, dubbed "Witnesses for Love." Participants also came from Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the statewide LGBT-rights organization Equality Virginia, Virginia Pride, and the Alliance for Progressive Values, among others.
This year’s demonstrations were scheduled to occur in up to 23 locations throughout the commonwealth on Valentine’s Day, but many were canceled due to weather. Friday’s rally in Arlington was one such "Witness for Love," where interfaith religious leaders and local residents come together to sing, offer prayers, make speeches about equality and stand in solidarity. This year, as in previous years, same-sex couples have attended the demonstrations and applied for marriage licenses as a symbolic gesture, knowing the applications will be denied by the county clerk.
Since the first of the 2014 demonstrations, starting on Valentine’s Day, the Rev. Robin Gorsline, president of POFEV, has consistently said the aim of the rallies is to change hearts and minds and create an impetus for legislative action by highlighting the stories of same-sex couples disadvantaged by Virginia’s ban. Notably, in February a federal judge declared the ban unconstitutional. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is due to hear arguments in that case in May.
Arlington County Clerk Paul Ferguson, a Witness for Love participant for the past three years, praised the Arlington demonstrators for their dedication and resilience, as many have returned year after year, vowing to do so until the ban is lifted. Even though Ferguson was forced to reject the same-sex marriage-license applications Friday, he has repeatedly told same-sex couples he will keep their applications in a file that can be reopened once he can legally process them. At Friday’s rally, Ferguson posed for pictures with two couples who applied for licenses -- Michael Bagwell and Clark Chesser of Fairfax, and Kathleen Light and Ann Rahn of Arlington -- and their rejected applications.
"I just want to commend everybody who’s worked so hard on this issue," Ferguson told the crowd. "There’s every reason to be angry about the discrimination you face, but you have put your energy into changing what is a discriminatory policy."
State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington Co.), a candidate for Congress who represents the area around the county courthouse and who attended the rally, told Metro Weekly that he knows legislators whose opinions around marriage equality are changing, but added that it remains an uphill fight to pass the necessary measures that would return the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the ballot.