As Circuit Court clerk, Michele McQuigg singlehandedly delayed marriage equality’s arrival in Virginia by several months. Now, thanks to the votes of multiple lame-duck county supervisors, there will be a park in Prince William County named after her.
The elections have already taken place. The new General Assembly will be seated in just over a month, and the same is true of county-level governing bodies all around the state. But the fact that they’d already been voted out of office didn’t stop several Republicans on the Prince William County Board Of Supervisors from naming a park after the late Michele McQuigg, a former Prince William Circuit Court Clerk most famous for defending Virginia’s anti-same-sex-marriage law in 2014, after Attorney General Mark Herring refused to.
The idea to name a new park in Prince William County after McQuigg, who died in 2017, was proposed earlier this year by Supervisor Ruth Anderson of Occoquan. However, when the potential name was placed before Prince William’s Parks And Recreation Commission in July, McQuigg’s historical place in the losing fight against marriage equality was enough of a stumbling block that the Parks And Recreation Commission voted 6-2 against having McQuigg’s name grace the park.
In 2013, two gay couples in Virginia sued the state for the right to marry their longterm partners. That case, Bostic v. Schaefer, was decided in favor of the plaintiffs at the District Court level in February 2014. The initial decision, which found the Commonwealth’s ban against same-sex marriage unconstitutional, was appealed and went before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2014. When the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, Attorney General Mark Herring chose not to defend the Virginia state law in the United States Supreme Court.
This would have meant that the legal battle was over, and marriage equality could come to Virginia. However, instead of letting that happen, McQuigg used her position as Prince William County Circuit Court clerk to demand a stay of the Fourth Circuit Court decision in order to allow her to defend the Virginia law at the Supreme Court level.
The Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the case, and marriage equality came to Virginia in October 2014. However, it was delayed for three months by McQuigg’s actions.
“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,” Parks and Rec Commissioner Sharon Richardson, who represents the Woodbridge District, told Prince William Times in July.
At the time, Commissioner Jane Beyer defended McQuigg’s actions as a principled stance in favor of the rule of law, regardless what the law actually says. “She stuck to the rule of law come hell or high water,” Beyer told the Prince William Times in July.
Nonetheless, this argument did not persuade the Parks and Rec Commission, and the process of naming the park was restarted, ultimately landing on the name Old Bridge Trail Park. The Parks and Rec Commission approved that name in October.
That was the name that came up for approval by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors on November 19. But Anderson, who’d lost an election two weeks earlier to Democrat Kenny Boddye, asked the board to return to her original idea and name the park after McQuigg after all.
Anderson, who was quoted by Prince William Times acknowledging that “a majority of parks and recreation commission members felt that Michele’s stand for traditional marriage towards the end of her public service was not acceptable,” pointed to the results of a Facebook survey in which McQuigg had received the most write-in votes as a reason to overrule the Parks And Rec Commission and name the park for McQuigg.
The director of Prince William’s Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department, Seth Hendler-Voss, called the Facebook survey non-scientific, and said that many votes in favor of McQuigg came from people who weren’t Prince William residents.
“It is not a statistically valid survey,” Hendler-Voss said at the meeting, according to the Prince William Times.
However, five of eight Prince William Supervisors chose nonetheless to vote in favor of naming the park for McQuigg. Of those five who voted in favor, four will not return to the Board Of Supervisors when the new session begins in January. Anderson was defeated by a Democrat earlier this month, Marty Nohe lost at the Republican primary level in May, and Maureen Caddigan and Board Chairman Corey Stewart (yup, that guy) did not seek re-election.
The fifth vote in favor came from Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, who alone was elected to remain on the board in 2020. Of the Supervisors who voted against the proposal, one was Republican Pete Candland, who despite his positive opinion of McQuigg, nonetheless felt that the decision to name a park after her would be too divisive in light of public opinion about McQuigg in Prince William County today.
“There’s too much controversy, there’s too much angst within a significant population of Prince William County, and that’s why ultimately I can’t support it,” Candland told the Prince William Times.
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