In Washington DC, on the north side of the Potomac River, LGBT people have employment discrimination protections and, starting today, will begin getting married. In Virginia on the south side of the Potomac, same sex couples are barred by a 2006 amendment to the Virginia Constitution from having their relations recognized on any legal basis under the state's laws. Worse yet, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has launched a potential with hunt where gay state employees can be fired at will solely because of their sexual orientation.
What the Hell has happened to Virginia which provided such brilliant and enlightened leadership in the founding of the nation? Ever since the end of the Civil War, Virginia has taken up the banner of discrimination and reactionary thinking, leading the way in Jim Crow laws, bans on interracial marriage that only ended when the U.S. Supreme Court acted, and now unleashing Neanderthal theocrats at the highest levels of state government who display a mindset akin to that of the leadership in Tehran. As a Virginia resident, the trend is frightening.
Two articles in the Washington Post underscore the different worlds that now exist a mere width of a river apart. The first looks at the same sex marriages about to begin in the District. The other looks at the shock of students in Virginia's colleges and universities to Cuccinelli's effort to drag the state backwards in time by decades.
Here are highlights on marriages in the District:
They met in grad school. Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend were assigned to debate opposing sides of the same issue in a constitutional law class at the University of the District of Columbia, and both were so nerdily over-prepared -- typical Washingtonians -- that the other members of their group decided the debate was a draw. Young felt the attraction first.
That was 12 years ago. They have tattoos on their wrists now: Townsend's says "Sunflower" and Young's says "Rain." On Tuesday they will have wedding bands as well. Townsend and Young, the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license after the District of Columbia legalized same-sex unions, also will be among the first to be married.
Young and Townsend don't know why anyone would want to read about them. They're boring people -- a community outreach coordinator (Young) and a D.C. government supervisor (Townsend). They read, they shoot pool, they occasionally go dancing, they walk the dog. Townsend, 41, paints and has filled their Southeast Washington home with art. Young, 47, is a bubbly Lucille Ball type. They complement each other. What more is there to say?
But maybe Mildred and Richard Loving, the Virginia couple whose marriage ultimately ended anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, also thought they were boring. There are people who seek out fame, and there are people whose boring lives get sewed up into the fabric of history and become accidental celebrities. Maybe, someone suggests to Young and Townsend, their lives will become part of historical record. Forty years from now people will wonder who they were.
The second story looks at the initial reaction of students and others to Cuccinelli's opening of witch hunts in state and university departments for LGBT employees (the timing of Cucinnelli's letter seems timed to coincide with spring break at most Virginia colleges and universities):
Campus activists across Virginia put spring break on hold Monday to mobilize against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who has riled student groups with a letter advising public universities to retreat from their policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
More than 3,000 people joined the Facebook page "We Don't Want Discrimination In Our State Universities And Colleges!" Nearly 1,000 people joined another, started by activists at the College of William and Mary. The University of Virginia group Queer & Allied Activism urged students to protest on Cuccinelli's Facebook page and on Twitter.
Students at Virginia Commonwealth University, one of the few in the state not on break, planned a rally for noon Wednesday, with several hundred students committed. At Christopher Newport University, student Republican and Democratic leaders will discuss their next steps at a bipartisan meeting Friday.
"I've never gotten so many e-mails from students wanting to do something," said Brandon Carroll, 21, president of the student government at Virginia Tech. He said any erosion in gay rights at state universities is "going to make us lose top students. It's going to make us lose top faculty."
A growing number of industry leaders have also lined up against the directive from Cuccinelli (R), some portraying it as a threat to the quality and competitiveness of Virginia's higher-education system. . . . Leaders of academia attacked the state directive on several fronts. The head of the Virginia conference of the American Association of University Professors wrote in a letter to the governor that any discrimination not grounded in qualification or merit "is abhorrent to the values of higher education."
Meanwhile, Cuccinelli and McDonnell's masters at The Family Foundation lauded Cuccinelli's actions in an e-mail that makes it clear that theocracy and religious based discrimination - something illegal even under Virginia law - are what's really behind the McDonnell/Cuccinelli agenda:
It really is not about discrimination. It is about government recognition - acceptance - of the homosexual lifestyle. Make no mistake, this debate is a serious one and it will have long term consequences for not just state government but private businesses and ultimately our marriage amendment. The goal is not anti-discrimination - it is forced acceptance of a lifestyle that many Virginians find antithetical to their faith.
If anyone is seeking to force a "lifestyle" on anyone, it would seem to be the Christianists. The question for Virginians is whether we stay and fight or leave the state in disgust and allow it to sink to the level of backwardness of Alabama and Mississippi?