On July 17, the Prince William County Parks and Recreation Commission put the brakes on Supervisor Ruth Anderson’s request to name a new park in the Occoquan District for the late Michele McQuigg, a former supervisor, state delegate and Prince William County clerk of court who passed away in 2017.
McQuigg, a Republican, served 25 years in elected office and gave many more years to various volunteer efforts around the county. But it was her decision in 2014 to volunteer to defend the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that gave the parks and rec commissioners pause regarding the name request. Six of the eight board members voted to form a new naming committee to consider other possible suggestions.
McQuigg volunteered to be a defendant in the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage while she was serving as clerk of the circuit court, the post charged with issuing marriage licenses in Prince William County. She joined Norfolk Clerk of the Circuit Court George E. Schaefer III, who was initially named as a defendant in the case. Earlier that year, Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, declined to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban, saying he, too, believed it unconstitutional.
McQuigg was represented in her efforts by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, who she said at the time were “experts in defending marriage laws.” The group is a conservative Christian nonprofit that the Southern Poverty Law Center now labels as a “hate group” because of its strident opposition to gay rights.
Alliance Defending Freedom now works mostly on behalf of merchants – wedding cake bakers, invitation printers and T-shirt makers – who decline to do business with LGBTQ customers.
The plaintiffs in the 2014 lawsuit were two gay couples: Timothy Bostic and Tony London, of Norfolk, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, of Richmond. Bostic and London applied for a marriage license in Norfolk Circuit Court in 2013, but were denied. Schall and Townley were legally married in California in 2008 and had a teenage daughter. Townley is the girl’s mother, but Virginia law kept Schall from being the girl’s adoptive mother.
McQuigg’s defenders on the parks and rec commission said her decision to volunteer as a defendant in the lawsuit was a matter of her standing up for “the rule of law.”
But the U.S. Constitution allows laws to be made (and dismantled) by more than one branch of government, and gay marriage was well on its way to becoming legal across the country when McQuigg decided to involve herself in the lawsuit on behalf of her Prince William County constituents.
Here’s where things stood when McQuigg made that decision:
Gay marriage was legal, due to a mix of court decisions and legislative actions, in 18 states, including Maryland (2012) and Washington, D.C. (2009).
By early 2014, there had been about 183,280 gay marriages across the country, according to the New York Times.
In April 2013, a majority of the U.S. Senate had expressed support for same-sex marriage, including three Republicans. Also in that year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
In 2012, President Barack Obama, who during his initial years in office endorsed only civil unions for gay couples, became the first sitting U.S. president to publicly support same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit in which McQuigg intervened was ultimately unsuccessful. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in October 2014 not to hear the case, a decision that effectively legalized gay marriage in Virginia. That happened about eight months before the high court decided the case that declared gay marriage legal across the U.S.
While Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was approved by 57 percent of the state’s electorate in 2006, the tide of public opinion turned fairly quickly on the issue. That change – which began as early as 1999 in Vermont – was already well under way when McQuigg decided to defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014.