Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A key Republican lawmaker will be proposing a new law that would bar Virginia from recognizing civil unions between same-sex partners from other states.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, has drafted the “Virginia Defense of Marriage Act,” which would bar the state from offering persons involved in civil unions the same benefits it does to married persons. Current law bars the state from recognizing same-sex “marriages.”

“People can’t leave here and go to Vermont to get married and then come back and say they want it recognized,” Mr. Marshall said yesterday. “It’s not simply homosexual marriage or civil unions, it’s the other stuff that will go along with it that’s more damaging to society at large.”

If a civil union is recognized, the same-sex partners would be allowed benefits that include hospital visitation and inheritance rights. The 2000 census figures show that there are about 13,800 same-sex couples in Virginia, according to Dyana Mason, executive director for Equality Virginia, a nonprofit political homosexual rights group in Richmond.

Thirty-seven states have passed laws stating they won’t legally acknowledge same-sex “marriage.” Several states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, are pushing to create a law that prevents recognition of civil unions between same-sex couples who move from other states.

Vermont is the only state that treats domestic partnerships the same as traditional marriages.

Several Republicans said Mr. Marshall’s bill is likely to have support when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 14. However, some Democrats said the bill will only distract lawmakers from other issues such as tax reform.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said he hasn’t seen the bill but believed that Republicans would support the new law.

“It’s been the public policy of the Commonwealth, and this is just a reiteration,” he said.

Delegate-elect Adam Ebbin, Arlington Democrat, said he opposes the bill.

“I hope it won’t distract us from the immediate business of reforming our tax system and addressing our budget problems,” said Mr. Ebbin, the state’s first openly homosexual legislator.

Mr. Ebbin said he would support expanding rights for same-sex couples. But “it wouldn’t pass, even though it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Mr. Marshall drafted his bill after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last month ruled that state’s ban on same-sex “marriage” was unconstitutional. Mr. Marshall said he was worried the ruling would give Virginia residents more incentive to recognize same-sex partnerships.

Homosexual rights advocates said they will fight the bill, which they called “mean-spirited” and unfair.

“It’s unfortunate Mr. Marshall feels the need to find a way to prohibit hard-working gay and lesbian Virginians from having the same basic equal rights as every other person in the state,” Ms. Mason said.

Mr. Marshall said homosexual rights advocates are playing a “phony game of victimhood used to leverage other rights.” Homosexuals in Virginia are not discriminated against, he said.

The top three Virginia lawmakers have said they oppose civil unions between same-sex partners.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, issued a statement after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling saying he disagreed with that court’s decision. Mr. Kaine said he was “confident” nothing would require Virginia to alter its “long-standing policy about marriage.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said state law doesn’t allow civil unions. Carrie Cantrell said Mr. Kilgore, a Republican, believes a marriage is between a man and a woman.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Mr. Warner said during his 2001 campaign he was opposed to legalizing civil unions.

The issue of civil unions also has come up in Maryland.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in October he would veto the Democrats’ attempts to extend domestic benefits to state workers in civil unions. The Republican governor also said the administration has no place giving benefits to people who choose same-sex partnerships.

Maryland acknowledges civil unions, but does not consider them equal to conventional marriages.

Mr. Marshall recently has been keeping an eye on the handling of sex education at state colleges and universities.

In May, he criticized James Madison University’s “SexFest 2003,” which was an on-campus health fair organized by students that included a demonstration of how to put on a condom. In September, Mr. Marshall denounced Virginia Tech officials for allowing students to tape a “Sex Talk Live” show during which students discussed sex.

Mr. Marshall also sharply has criticized distribution of cut-rate contraceptive pills to female students at Virginia’s public universities, prompting some schools to ban the pills.

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