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Lawmakers Pursue Nine Marriage Related Measures In The State Known For Lovers 

Only a few bills out of the thousands introduced this General Assembly session tackle love.

But Lawmakers resumed the long standing effort to codify same-sex marriage protection, but there are a handful of other bills that address marriage in the commonwealth.

Marriage for the “mature”

Del. Karen Keys-Gamarra, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 994, which passed the House 55-42. The bill reaffirms the legal age of marriage to be 18 years old. It will remove an exception that allows minors to become emancipated if they intend to get married.

“I believe that marriage … it should be a lifetime commitment,” Keys-Gamarra said. “It is a decision that should be made by people who are mature.” The delegate cited higher divorce and poverty rates among those who marry young, as well as an increase in pregnancy complications, as reasons the bill was introduced.

“It increases dropout rates and things of that nature that really suggests that marrying young is not the healthiest thing for most people,” Keys-Gamarra said.

The bill was amended to include a reenactment clause, which means it needs to pass this session and next. “Essentially this is what we call a speedbump,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, in committee, but it helped the bill advance. Simon voiced concerns about a potential loophole in which minors could seek emancipation for an unrelated reason, but then still marry.

The bill was placed in the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice.

Advance directive null with divorce or custody dispute

Del. Jed Arnold, R-Marion, introduced HB 436.

The bill allows a person to revoke an advance directive upon the filing for divorce or annulment of their marriage. An advance directive, or a living will, is a written document that determines a patient’s medical care in the case that they are unable to speak for themselves.

The bill also amends the Health Care Decisions Act to include divorce actions and custody visitation disputes as grounds for revocation.

“You could get a petition for custody of visitation prior to a divorce being entered,” Simon said. “Under this bill that sort of is the red flag that says ‘hey, they’re fighting over the kids, they probably don’t want to have each other making each other’s medical decisions.’”

Arnold encountered this issue in his legal practice. Someone without an advance directive can be their partner’s medical representative unless there is a divorce action pending between them.

“I thought that if it’s good enough for somebody that doesn’t have an advance directive or hasn’t executed one, it should be grounds for revocation if somebody has executed an advance directive,” Arnold said.

The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously.

Marriage rites performed by people other than ministers

Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, introduced HB 1126, which adds Virginia congressional representatives to the list of those who can perform rites of marriage without court authorization. Also on the list are current legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general — and of course, a minister.

Others not included in this list can officiate a marriage if they pay fees and sign paperwork.

The bill saw bipartisan engagement in both chambers.

A similar measure introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, Senate Bill 175, would add court clerks and former state legislators to this list, but not congressional members. The bill will have its final vote soon.

Licensure portability for couples therapists

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 329, to increase patient access to individuals qualified for therapy. It eases the process of licensure by endorsement for marriage and family therapists.

“It’s not a secret that we have a dearth of mental health professionals,” said Arnold Woodruff, executive director of the Virginia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy also spoke in support of the measure and said it is part of an effort they are spear-heading across nine states, including Virginia.

An applicant must show specific documentation from another jurisdiction, have no unresolved action against their license or certificate, and submit a written statement that says they understand Virginia regulations and laws.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously.

Virginia for all lovers

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 11, a constitutional amendment to repeal the current state definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman. It was continued to 2025. A House measure was also continued.

The Virginia constitution was amended in 2006 to define marriage, and legislative efforts have been ongoing for at least a decade to include protections for same-sex couples.

A continued Democratic majority is necessary to codify the right to marry regardless of sex, gender or race, according to Ebbin.

“Republican legislators have dragged their feet in the past and very few of them have been supportive,” Ebbin said. “I’m appreciative of those who have.”

Same-sex marriage became federally recognized through the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Advocates and couples have voiced concern that there are no state protections if the ruling is overturned, other than limited protections in the Respect for Marriage Act passed in 2022.

Two bills that recently passed both chambers and head to the governor’s desk would ensure marriage licenses for same-sex couples. HB 174 and SB 101 make up for the state constitutional gap.

“In the short term, we just want to make clear that clerks issue licenses to people regardless of whether it’s a same-sex marriage or opposite-sex marriage,” Ebbin said.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

By Parker Barnes / Capital News Service

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