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Opinion | Youngkin’s same-sex marriage misstep could be an opportunity

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) does not support same-sex marriage, but he has blurred the question by saying he accepts it. The Republican blurred it further last week by misstating Virginia law. Mr. Youngkin, though cautious by nature, owes the LGBTQ community greater clarity on his position. He could do even more by lending the weight of his political influence to ensuring that Virginians will continue to be allowed to marry whomever they like, even if the Supreme Court reverses course and rescinds blanket legalization of same-sex marriage.

Mr. Youngkin, a former private equity executive before running for governor last year, erred last week on CBS’s “Face the Nation” by asserting that Virginia law would still protect same-sex marriage even if the Supreme Court tears up its decision legalizing that right.

In fact, that is not the law in Virginia. To the contrary: a state constitutional amendment, adopted in 2006, enshrines marriage as between a man and a woman. That amendment was rendered defunct by the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015. But it would automatically regain the full force of law if the Supreme Court were to execute an about-face on Obergefell v. Hodges, its decision enshrining same-sex marriage, as it did in overturning Roe v. Wade last month.

That is not likely in the foreseeable future, although some conservatives would like to see it. Still, Mr. Youngkin should have corrected himself; unfortunately, he doubled down on his error.

The governor now has an opportunity to do the right thing, which might also serve his own political interests. He can, and should, endorse aligning Virginia with Supreme Court precedent by repealing the state constitutional amendment that forbids same-sex marriage. He could further press for a new amendment to protect it.

The governor’s staff insists that any talk of the Supreme Court overturning same-sex marriage rights is hypothetical. But LGBTQ activists rightly insist there is reason for concern, citing Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision scrapping abortion rights, which argued that the same rationale should be used to undo Obergefell.

Mr. Youngkin, although he has never supported same-sex marriage, has not contested its validity. To his credit, he made multiple gestures to the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, in June, hosting a private lunch in Richmond with Log Cabin Republicans; meeting with them during a trip to Virginia Beach; and calling on Virginia’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board after bigots disrupted a previous meeting.

When pressed on his position during the campaign last fall, Mr. Youngkin said he does not support same-sex marriage. Still, his purposeful outreach, and explicit acceptance of the right as granted by the Supreme Court, suggests flexibility. Given that a majority of Americans, including Republicans, support same-sex marriage rights, and Mr. Youngkin’s own signals that he is considering running for president, flexibility could serve his interests — and those of many Virginians. By pushing to rescind the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, he would at once help align Virginia law with Supreme Court precedent, and position himself as favoring what he evidently believed Virginia law already guaranteed: marriage equality.

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