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Gas Tax Hike Passes State Senate Committee — On Tuesday, a state Senate committee backed a five cent increase on the gas tax, which is expected to generate $4.5 billion for road work over the next five years. The measure is an alternative to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan, which would eliminate the gas tax and increase the state sales tax. The gas tax increase is expected to pass in the full Senate today. [Washington Examiner]

Same Sex Marriage Demonstration — On Valentine’s Day (Thursday), same sex marriage supporters will gather in front of the Arlington County Courthouse where two same sex couples will request marriage licenses. A similar demonstration occurred last month, when Paul Ferguson, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, had to deny licenses to more than a dozen couples because gay marriage is not legal in Virginia. The group will gather around 10:00 a.m. and includes supporters from five Arlington churches.

Ray’s Hell Burger Officially for Rent — “For Rent” signs have been posted on the spaces previously occupied by Ray’s Hell Burger and Ray’s Hell Burger Too in Rosslyn. As ARLnow.com first reported last month, the restaurants closed due to a landlord-tenant dispute. At first, the closing appeared to be temporary, based on a sign posted in the window that read: “Please visit us at Ray’s to the Third while we take a quick break.” [Washingtonian]

Tropical Smoothie Cafe Begins Delivery Service — The Tropical Smoothie Cafe restaurant (3811 N. Fairfax Drive) in Virginia Square has started offering delivery of its food and drinks. Owner Marcus Barnett says this is the first Tropical Smoothie Cafe in the country to offer the service. Orders must be at least $15 and there is a $2 delivery fee.

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Dozens of demonstrators seeking same sex marriage rights packed the square in front of the Arlington County Courthouse this morning, before marching into the District.

Members of the Campaign for Southern Equality work to bring attention to the desire for same sex couples to get married in Southern states. The group’s website states: “The actions on January 17 are intended to highlight the lives and stories of LGBT people from across the South; the powerful reality that in our nation’s capital LGBT people have the right to marry; and the injustice that legal marriages between same-sex couples are not recognized in the South.”

Participants gathered in the square to request marriage licenses from Paul Ferguson, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

“I commend each of you that is coming forward today for your courage. I think you do realize that by law, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not allow me to issue those marriage licenses to you,” Ferguson said. “I hope that if laws do change in the future, that you will choose to return one day to Arlington County to receive a marriage license.”

More than a dozen couples stepped forward to request marriage licenses from Ferguson. In turn, each was rejected.

“Unfortunately, I am not able to grant that license by law,” Ferguson repeated to each couple.

Each of the couples acknowledged the rejection, some vowing to return for licenses should the laws change.

“You’re just doing your job. We’ve been together 25 years. It hurts to be rejected,” one tearful applicant said to Ferguson. “We know hearts and minds do change, and we hope Virginia will too.”

Following the request for licenses, the applicants and dozens of others in attendance marched to the Jefferson Memorial. There, the group honored a North Carolina same sex couple’s legal marriage under D.C. law.

“We understand the laws aren’t going to change tomorrow. But if you live in the South, this is the distance you must travel before you’re equal under the law,” said Campaign for Southern Equality Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. “You must go all the way to Washington, D.C. to be treated equally under the law.”

Arlington County Police officers were in attendance to ensure everyone’s safety both at the demonstration and during the march from Arlington into the District. Police reported that no public roadways were obstructed, and that as of 12:30 p.m., the group had officially crossed into D.C. on the way to the Jefferson Memorial.

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President Obama made waves yesterday when he did and about-face and stated his support for gay marriage. He’s the first president to make such a declaration.

He made the comment in an ABC News exclusive, after having said for years he only supports civil unions and not same sex marriages.

“I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue,” President Obama said. “As I talked to friends and family and neighbors… at a certain point I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

The president said he believes the issue should continue to be worked out on the local level, in individual states.

On the local level in Arlington, Rep. Jim Moran (D) is voicing his support of  Mr. Obama’s announcement. He notes his record of actions to prevent discrimination, such as being a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, voting against the Defense of Marriage Act when it passed in Congress in 1996 and working to overturn the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

Here’s the statement he issued on the matter:

“President Obama’s comments today reflect the views of a growing number of Americans across the country. I welcome the President’s words, and those of members of his Administration, for their outspoken support for marriage equality.

“Marriage equality is an issue of basic fairness. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal” and that everyone has a right to “the pursuit of happiness” – principles that surely cannot be achieved without the ability to marry the person you love. Religious institutions have the right to define and sanction marriages in keeping with their religions’ faith. But the federal government has no place in determining which types of state-sanctioned marriages to recognize.

“The President’s comments today represent an important turning point in the fight to end discrimination. President Obama has become the first sitting President to take this position, and he deserves credit for arriving at this decision. Much work remains to achieve the goal of true equality for all citizens. I will continue my efforts to ensure that all Americans, regardless of age, race, gender and sexual orientation, are afforded equal rights and protection.”

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Remember Columbia Pike resident Jesse McLaughlin, the government security analyst who was named the 2011 Apartments.com Roommate of the Year?

Well, it seems that McLaughlin’s good luck in the roommate department didn’t end there. He recently proposed to his roommate — his girlfriend, Lisa — and the pair are now engaged.

McLaughlin said he spent the prize money ($10,000 plus free rent for a year) on an engagement ring.

“I was able to spring for a ring with the money I saved by winning the grand prize and not having to pay rent this past year,” McLaughlin said in a press release. “If there had been any question before, now I am definitely Roommate of the Year, at least in my fiancee’s eyes!”

Apartments.com is now seeking entries for its 2012 Roommate of the Year contest.

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A local couple is in the running for a Facebook contest organized by the national bridal store chain David’s Bridal.

Samantha Sissman and Clyde Wentling, who first met as students at Arlington’s H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, are getting married this summer. They’re hoping to win the $2,500 “Share Your Love” contest to help offset the expense of flying the mother of the groom-to-be in from her home in West Africa.

Sissman and Wentling both grew up in Arlington. Though they attended high school together, they only started dating in 2008 after meeting again years later through friends. Sissman, whose family still lives in South Arlington, has worked as an aide in the Arlington County Board office for nearly four years.

To vote for Samantha and Clyde, go to their contest entry page and click on the red ‘vote’ button. Additional information about the contest can be found here.

Photo via Facebook

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In a symbolic Valentine’s Day act, a gay couple submitted an application for a marriage license to the Arlington County Circuit Court Clerk’s office this morning — only to be denied because Virginia does not permit same-sex marriages.

James Fisher and Ron Bookbinder were joined outside the Arlington County courthouse by several dozen supporters of gay marriage, including County Board member Jay Fisette, Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, four local ministers and a local rabbi.

Following speeches and prayers outside, Fisher and Bookbinder went inside the courthouse to submit their marriage license application. Ferguson accepted the application but explained that state law prohibited him from issuing the license. He then promised to keep the application on file until gay marriage is legalized in Virginia, according to Elizabeth Wildhack, one of the event’s organizers.

The event was one of three such events in Virginia today planned by a group called People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. Religious leaders and their congregants were expected to witness several gay couples attempting to get married in Richmond and in Fairfax later in the day.

“These actions are part of a growing movement in Virginia to recognize the value of all families,” said Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, in a statement.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wildhack

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When noted Irish-Australian journalist and author Paul McGeough wanted to propose to his girlfriend, he decided to do so in the place where they first met — the Shirlington library.

McGeough met now-fiance Nadia Itraish at the library 18 months ago, during the author talk for his book Kill Khalid: Mossad’s Failed Hit and the Rise of Hamas. Following a “very animated discussion” about the book, Itraish — a Palestinian-American peace activist, George Washington University alum and Freddie Mac manager — came up to McGeough to continue the conversation. The pair “hit it off” and started dating, according to library employee Ann-Marie Dittmann.

On Saturday afternoon, with the discreet help of library staff, McGeough brought Itraish to a library conference room — like the one in which they met — and asked her to marry him. She said yes, and the couple went across the street to Busboys and Poets to celebrate.

McGeough’s marriage proposal was a first for the four-year-old Shirlington library, according to Dittmann.

The engagement came 10 months after McGeough, the chief foreign correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, survived a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that he was reporting on. McGeough spent several days in Israeli custody before being released.

Itraish spent those days in fear that McGeough had been killed, according to an article in The Australian newspaper. The story ended happily when McGeough returned safely to the U.S. The couple now lives in McLean.

Photo via the University of Sydney

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Local Realtor Laura Rubinchuk and her now-fiance Mitch Schwartz went to Lyon Hall on their second date. When Mitch popped the question over the weekend, the popular Clarendon eatery came to them.

“I came up with the idea because Lyon Hall has great significance in our relationship and I wanted it to be a part of our proposal,” said Schwartz, who teaches high school English for Loudoun County Public Schools. “Lyon Hall… was where I fell in love with her.”

While proposing at the restaurant itself may have seemed like a natural choice, Mitch had bigger plans. He wanted more privacy, more intimacy for the big moment. He wanted to spread flower pedals around the room, light candles, put on their favorite song and surprise Laura without two dozen people gawking at them. But he still wanted Lyon Hall to be a part of it. So he talked to manager Mark Fedorchak.

“I went in to Lyon Hall and spoke with Mark and asked if he would be open to doing a dinner in our condo which is next door” to the restaurant, Schwartz said. “He loved the idea and asked if he could have some freedom in planning it.”

“Thursday night I sat down with Mark and he had drawn up a menu for me to look over and it was an amazing five course meal with all of our favorites on there,” he said. “We discussed wine options and agreed that I would come back on Friday… to give him a key and let them set up.”

When the big night arrived, Fedorchak, a waiter and another manager delivered silverware, place settings and ice buckets, which Schwartz hid just before Laura arrived home. After she got dressed for what Mitch said was going to be a date night to celebrate a recent anniversary, he gave her a series of envelopes with clues that sent her around Arlington to places with special meaning to their whirlwind, five-month romance.

In the meantime, Schwartz went about setting up the room. With the condo now looking like their own private restaurant, Laura returned and Mitch greeted her at the door.

“I asked her to dance and immediately asked her a question I always ask: ‘What would you say if I asked you (to marry me) tomorrow?’ She responded with her usual response of ‘Why don’t you ask and find out’.  I said ‘okay’ and got down on my knee.  She, thankfully, said yes.”

Then, with a phone call, the meal started.

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After news of Al and Tipper Gore’s split broke yesterday, Shayna Englin, wife of Del. David Englin, asked via Twitter: “Aren’t there any ACTUALLY happy couples in DC?”

Today she apparently answered her own question.

“14 years, 3 cities, 1 child, 1 business, 1 political career and I’m still married to my (hot) best friend. Happy Anniversary @David_Englin!” she wrote.

Del. Englin, a Democrat who represents parts of Arlington and Alexandra in the Virginia General Assembly, later tweeted: “on the train to NY w/my hot wife to celebrate our 14th anniversary.”

That sounds much more exciting than examining the nuances of Arlington’s change-of-government petition. Here’s wishing the hot couple a happy anniversary.

Photo via Facebook.

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