RICHMOND, Va. — After same-sex marriage became legal in Virginia in early October, has the controversial issue vanished as a hot-button election topic at the polls? Bill Harrison, the executive director of the Richmond Gay Community Foundation, said he believed same-sex marriage will no longer be a topic for voters and candidates in Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections.
“I think that America is moving past this. I don’t think that it is the issue that it was a couple years ago, and I think the change of attitude has come about because we have allowed people to get to know us,” Harrison said. “If you look at civil rights issues whether it’s race, or whether it’s women, the more we humanize the issues … the easier it becomes. All this progress didn’t take place just in the last 12 months. This goes back generations and generations.”
But there are voices in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community who caution to not simply move one after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages in Virginia to move forward. LGBT community member Fatima Sissoko said she believed that dismissing an issue as complicated as same-sex marriage is problematic, because the issues in the community run much deeper.
“I find it hard that in this day and age people still have that, ‘Ok, this is done, now we can move on,’ type of mentality,” said Sissoko. “That mentality is harmful for people my age and a little bit younger, because they see it as, ‘Now that this is done, we’re done with the marriage issue and we can go to something else’- but what about class issues? What if you can’t afford to get married but still need the benefits? What if you’re in the military and you already get benefits? There are more than single point issues.”
VCU student Madison Baya agreed that same-sex marriage is an important issue, but that there are many other issues that the LGBT community wants to address.
“I think a lot of people think that if we endorse same-sex marriage, then we’ve covered all the LGBT issues. But there’s so much more behind it,” said Baya. “People get caught up with this one issue when trans people are getting killed everyday and a lot of people don’t even know what ‘asexual’ is. So it’s not just a matter of getting that issue on the forefront, but … all these other issues coming to light too.”
But the importance of the issue varies from voter to voter. Lesbian couple Erika Straus and Savannah Flores had different takes on same-sex marriage and the upcoming election. When asked if they would change their vote for the midterm elections because same-sex marriage is now legal, Straus said that maybe she would.
“Now that it is legal, it would be less of an [issue]. Before, when I was voting for the presidential election, it was something that was not necessary, because I want gay marriage or I need it, but, I’m gay,” said Straus, explaining why she voted for President Barack Obama, who supported same-sex marriage.
Flores, on the hand, said that her voting pattern will remain the same. “I’m pretty much Democrat the whole way,” said Flores.
The perception that the Democratic Party is more concerned with same-sex marriage is common, but Harrison believes both parties are becoming more open.
“I think that marriage equality has become somewhat of a partisan issue, although I do know a significant number of Republicans who have no problems with marriage equality and I think we’re going to see that grow. There are some Democrats who have problems with this,” said Harrison. “The majority of leadership on a state and national level has come from the Democratic Party, but there is support from Republicans.”
He said that the LGBT community has the same concerns as any other voters.
“We would all agree we want safe streets. We want good schools. We want a good police department, a good fire department. We want a transparent government and we also want to be treated like first class citizens. Marriage equality is bringing us closer and job discrimination should be the next step,” said Harrison.
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.