- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

RICHMOND Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday his 2003 legislative agenda now includes passing covenant marriage laws in Virginia, once a social issue championed only by conservatives.
Mr. Kaine said yesterday he was "troubled" by divorce statistics and that if couples have an option, then "quite a few people will take advantage of it."
Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, a Virginia Beach Republican who supported similar legislation in recent years, said Mr. Kaine's proposal was almost identical to his and that he was surprised by the announcement.
"I was shocked," he said. "By supporting abortion and gay 'marriages,' the lieutenant governor has never frankly been conservative on social issues."
The traditional marriage licenses will still be available. But under the Kaine proposal, couples choosing the covenant when applying for a marriage license must participate in eight hours of pre-marriage counseling and eight hours of pre-divorce counseling, if they chose to separate.
"I think there is a pretty wide recognition [that] the family unit, which has been a bedrock, is under stress," Mr. Kaine said.
According to nationwide statistics released by Mr. Kaine's office, 43 percent of all first marriages end in divorce or separation within the first 15 years, and 50 percent of marriages involving people younger than 45 fail to succeed.
"Hopefully the lieutenant governor can cause some of the Democrats who killed the [previous] bill to come over and make sure it passes," said Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican who has supported Mr. McDonnell's efforts.
Those bills failed in 2000 and 2001, but Mr. McDonnell is not sure about whether he will reintroduce such legislation. Meanwhile, he is considering working together with Mr. Kaine.
Mr. McDonnell also hopes Mr. Kaine's support of covenant marriages will lift the "cloud of conservatism" that has alienated voters.
"Many have viewed this legislation as a way for social conservatives to inhibit the ability for people to get divorced," he said. "The lieutenant governor's support shows it is more mainstream and a good idea."
Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, a supporter of Mr. Kaine's legislation and Fairfax Democrat, said he supports the issue because voters told him getting a divorce in Virginia was just "too easy."
Mr. Kaine, a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2005, dismissed comments yesterday about his proposal sounding more like campaigning than policy-making.
Mr. Kilgore, a likely Republican candidate in the next governor's race, wants Mr. Kaine to support more social conservative issues during this session, including a ban on partial-birth abortion.
Some political observers think Mr. Kaine, a pro-choice candidate, made the announcement to attract voters.
But Delegate Albert C. Pollard Jr., Lancaster Democrat, said covenant marriage laws are about doing what is right, not about being a Democrat or Republican.
"I am not willing to concede family values to the Republicans," he said. "I commend the lieutenant governor for his efforts."
Mr. Kaine's 2003 legislation also includes making gross negligence of child-support payments a felony offense; establishing mandatory parental counseling for parents who get divorced because of child-rearing problems; and reporting of child abuse by clergy.

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