The late Michele McQuigg served the Prince William community for 25 years, first as a supervisor, then as a state delegate and finally as clerk of the circuit court.
But in 2014, when she was the circuit court clerk, McQuigg, a Republican, effectively delayed gay marriage in Virginia for a few months by intervening in a lawsuit to defend the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) would not.
That decision was enough to give the Prince William County Parks and Recreation Commission pause Wednesday about a decision to name a new park in the Occoquan District for McQuigg.
“I’m not a member of the particular community affected by her stance, but I have friends and family members who are, and I just cannot set aside the fact that Mrs. McQuigg inserted herself into [the lawsuit] and will now go down in history … for that stance,” said Parks and Rec Commissioner Sharon Richardson, who represents the Woodbridge District.
“I appreciate that people live their principles, but sometimes when you are in public office you have to set aside your personal feelings about something and consider that you represent everybody,” Richardson added. “For that reason, I am not comfortable naming the park for Mrs. McQuigg.”
The commission voted 6 to 2 on Wednesday, July 17, to decline a request, originally forwarded by Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, to name the new park for McQuigg, who died of cancer in February 2017 at age 69.
The only commissioners voting in favor of recommending that the park be named for McQuigg were Commissioner Jane Beyer, of the Coles District and the board's chairwoman, and Commissioner Brodie Freer of the Occoquan District.
The recommendation, had it been approved, would have gone to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, which as the final say on naming new parks and facilities within Prince William County’s parks.
The commission decided instead to re-start the naming process for the new park by forming another naming committee to consider new suggestions from the community.
Several commissioners expressed their support for re-opening the process.
“I’m not saying no on her name,” said Commissioner Brenda Gardziel, of the Potomac District. “I’m saying that we go back to the drawing board. Her name is one of the ones we can consider.”
Although no one spoke in opposition to naming the park for McQuigg during the commission’s public hearing, which was also held during the commission’s July 17 meeting, the county received several comments critical of a naming survey for the park that was circulated via the county’s Facebook page. The survey asked respondents whether the park should be named “Michele B. McQuigg Park” or “Michele McQuigg Park,” but provided no opportunity to suggest other names.
After Anderson asked that the park be named for McQuigg, the commission followed their policy and formed a naming committee, which then considered whether McQuigg met the commission’s criteria as stated in its naming policy. The committee decided McQuigg was a good fit because of her more than two decades of public service and passed along their decision to the full commission.
McQuigg served as Occoquan District supervisor from 1992 to 1998; as a state delegate from 1998 to 2008; and finally as the county’s circuit court clerk from 2007 until her death in 2017.
Several people spoke in support of naming the new park for McQuigg during the public hearing. They praised McQuigg’s hard work and dedication as a public official, saying she sought to serve all her constituents whether they agreed with her politically or not.
Among those who spoke in favor of naming the park for McQuigg was Hilda Barg, a former Woodbridge District supervisor. Barg called McQuigg a friend despite their political differences.
Barg, a Democrat, said McQuigg for “led the fight” to have Telegraph Road paved many years ago and recalled that McQuigg was best known for her floppy straw hat, which she wore while going door-to-door to meet with her constituents.
“Michele McQuigg had a heart like you can’t believe,” Barg said. “…She didn’t go door-to-door just in an election year. She went door-to-door talking to people about how she could make things better.”
Beyer defended McQuigg’s decision to intervene as a defendant in the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying she was following “the rule of law.”
“She stuck to the rule of law come hell or high water,” Byer said.
McQuigg joined the lawsuit, Bostic v. Schaefer, as a defendant through her position as court clerk, the official who issues marriage licenses in Prince William County. Through her attorneys, McQuigg asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a stay on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' July 2014 decision to let stand a lower court's ruling, issued in February 2014, that declared the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was brought against the state in 2013 by two gay couples who sought the right to marry their long-term partners.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted the stay in August 2014. But the Supreme Court ultimately decided not to hear the case -- a decision that legalized gay marriage in Virginia in October 2014.
The high court went on to legalize gay marriage across the country via a 5-to-4 decision on a different lawsuit in June 2015.
Katie Schneider, one of McQuigg’s two daughters, also testified in support of her mom. She said her mom spent countless hours serving the community on parent-teacher associations and in other capacities even before becoming an elected official.
Several commissioners said they agreed McQuigg was a dedicated public servant but said the commission should nonetheless hear more input from the public.
Commissioner Jeff Bergman, of the Gainesville District, said he believes a person should be judged by “their full body of work.” Still, he said it’s best to gather more names.
“We can get some more feedback. …I want to be fully informed. I want to make the right decision … and let the board of supervisors make the right decision.”
The commission is now seeking four community members to serve on a new naming committee. The commission can be reached by calling 703-792-7060.
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org