- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

RICHMOND — The House yesterday approved a constitutional amendment to define traditional marriage, making Virginia the first jurisdiction in the region to take such action.

The House voted 78-18 in favor of the amendment, which defines marriage as the union of a man and woman and bans same-sex civil unions. The legislature must pass the amendment again next year before it is sent to voters in November 2006.

Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Campbell Republican, who co-sponsored the measure, said the amendment is one of the most important she has ever seen.

“[Traditional marriage] is the fundamental building block of our society,” Mrs. Byron said. “Now that definition, that tradition, that foundation is threatened. If we do not act, marriage as we have come to know it will be redefined through the judicial process.”

During the debate, several House Democrats said the amendment is discriminatory and will one day be considered as “shameful” as the days of racial segregation and slavery.

“Today is one of the moments of which we will one day be ashamed,” said Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, who is the legislature’s only openly homosexual member. “We are about to actively write discrimination into our state constitution. I could not stand by while this body again uses gays and lesbians as scapegoats for what has happened to the institution of marriage.”

Delegate James H. Dillard II of Fairfax is the only Republican who voted against the amendment. There are 60 Republicans, 37 Democrats and two independents in the House.

The Senate on Monday voted 30-10 to pass a similar constitutional amendment defining marriage. There are 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the Senate.

Neither amendment requires the governor’s approval to be implemented into the state constitution.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has said he thinks the amendment is not necessary because Virginia law does not recognize same-sex unions.

Last year, voters in 13 states chose to amend their constitutions to define traditional marriage, bringing to 17 the number of states that have such amendments.

Mr. Ebbin compared the amendment to Virginia’s history of slavery, the forced Trail of Tears migration for American Indians, lynchings, internment camps and Massive Resistance, the state’s official effort to thwart court-ordered public school desegregation.

“You may argue that these are different, but I would say that discrimination is discrimination is discrimination,” the Arlington Democrat said.

Mr. Ebbin said divorce, not homosexuals, is the true threat to marriage. He also noted that all House delegates are up for re-election in November.

“This is all about politics and re-election campaigns. The measure before us addresses none of the threats or challenges that husbands and wives face today,” he said. “I have no doubts that the proponents of this measure are on the wrong side of history.”

Some Senate Democrats arguing against the amendment during Monday’s debate compared it to Nazism.

Supporters said the measure is necessary because of actions in other states.

Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down bans on homosexuals’ exchanging vows and a judge on Friday said such bans in New York violate the state constitution, a ruling that, if not overturned on appeal, would allow homosexuals to “wed” in that state.

During the debate yesterday, Delegate Mark D. Sickles called the amendment “overkill” because the state does not allow same-sex unions and said no Virginia judge would make such a move.

“One thing we’ve never had are liberal, activist judges,” the Alexandria Democrat said. “We’ve already done our work on this. We’ve cluttered up our code already. Let’s not clutter up our constitution. Let’s not rub salt in wounds.”

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, said he is convinced that the courts will try to force Virginia to recognize the nuptials of same-sex couples, and rebuffed critics.

“We are not here about hatred. We are here about marriage,” he said. “This is not a civil rights issue. … We are defending marriage, which is seriously under attack.”

Delegate Viola O. Baskerville, who is black, disagreed.

“We should not allow discrimination against anyone or any group,” the Richmond Democrat said. “Future generations will judge those of you who are about to write a new category of discrimination into the Virginia Constitution.”

Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said yesterday that his group adamantly opposes the amendments.

“We’re in for a long struggle when it comes to gay rights, and it’s simply a matter of legislators coming to their senses and realizing this is not a place where they should be,” Mr. Willis told The Washington Times. “This bill interferes with people’s freedoms and individual liberties.”

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