Last Friday, Tim Kaine’s name lit up the news when Hillary Clinton announced him as her choice for vice president. Clinton introduced Kaine as someone with a lifelong commitment to social justice and a progressive who knows how to get things done. Equality Virginia can assure you that Virginians wholeheartedly agree. I want you to know he has been a long friend to Equality Virginia and the commonwealth’s LGBT community. Tim Kaine would be the first to admit that his views on LGBT issues have evolved, and this is because he has always been open to dialogue and new ideas.
Tim Kaine put his face, his words, and the power of his office into the fight against LGBT discrimination long before it was safe for a Virginia politician to do so. This is especially important because he took a public stand for equality even as his personal feelings on the issues were still changing. If the past is any indication, Tim Kaine’s willingness to step out in front of his constituents and say things that may be unpopular shows he will be an agent of change in the role of vice president.
For example, in 2004, while serving as lieutenant governor, Kaine was the first statewide elected official to attend and speak at Equality Virginia’s Commonwealth Dinner. This was a watershed moment for our movement, being in a Southern state and surrounded by hostility. Not only was the lieutenant governor attending a fundraiser for an LGBT advocacy group, he was a featured speaker. It was an example of what to expect in the future and showed we could trust that in Kaine there was someone who could eventually grow into a major ally.
This trust came to fruition in 2006 when, at the very beginning of his term as governor, Kaine signed an executive order to include sexual orientation in Virginia’s nondiscrimination policy for public employees, meaning for the first time, gay and bisexual Virginians enjoyed these protections for the entirety of a governor’s term. Later that year, in a wave of anti-marriage equality amendments sweeping the nation, Kaine was the only Southern governor to speak out against them. He and his wife, Anne Holton, stood in front of Virginia’s historic Governor’s Mansion and asked for Virginians to vote against the so-called marriage amendment. At the time he was publicly opposed to same-sex marriage, but he knew adding a constitutional amendment banning the freedom to marry was the wrong thing to do.
As a U.S. senator, his support continued to develop when he joined an amicus brief to the Supreme Court detailing why the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Later he wrote to President Obama asking for an executive order covering federal contractors, saying that “covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace.” Today, he shows his commitment to LGBT equality as a cosponsor of the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation that would provide permanent protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Tim Kaine truly is a shining example of the new normal for our allies in elected offices.
But we can’t talk about Tim Kaine’s support for our movement without also talking about his wife, Anne Holton. Together for more than 30 years, both have long worked to make the lives of all Virginians better. As a former Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge and as secretary of Education, Anne has a strong reputation as an advocate for Virginia’s youth. Most recently, she has worked with Equality Virginia to find ways to make sure all LGBT youth are provided a safe and welcoming space in Virginia’s schools.
If you’ve been paying attention to social media, I am sure you have seen the outpouring of affection and goodwill toward the Kaine family coming from every corner of Virginia and there is a reason why. Their lifelong service to our community and justice is real and respected and has been evident from the beginning. I am happy that America and LGBT people across the country now get to meet this wonderful couple Equality Virginia has long considered friends.
JAMES PARRISH is the executive director of Equality Virginia.