- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

RICHMOND — House lawmakers rejected a bill yesterday that would have denied same-sex couples or heterosexual unmarried couples from getting a state home loan.

“I am concerned about any relaxation [of] this rule that permits unmarried groups of people to live together,” said Delegate Richard H. Black, the bill’s sponsor and Loudoun Republican. “I’m not sure that’s what the taxpayers of Virginia are interested in doing.”

He also argued that the home loans should go to people with “stable family relationships.” The bill was defeated by a 56-40 vote.

The bill would have forced the Virginia Housing Development Authority to give loans only to applicants related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Homosexual rights advocateshailed the bill’s defeat as a political win.

“It’s a victory for us,” said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia. “The bill would have left an awful lot of people out of that scenario, not just gays and lesbians.”

Other critics said the bill would have hurt single mothers and minorities trying to buy homes.

Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg, Arlington County Democrat, asked whether the bill was meant to suggest that “engaged couples, two business partners, two working women with children, widowed sisters-in-law … are somehow harmful to the culture of this state and not worthy of a loan.”

Some Republicans also did not support the bill.

Delegate Terrie L. Suit, Chesapeake Republican, told a story about her days as a mortgage lender. She said a woman wanted to get a loan with the grandmother of her children to buy a home. However, the women had no blood relation, and the family was unable to get the loan.

“That might constitute an irregular relationship to a couple of people on the floor of this house, but I thought that was an admirable relationship,” said Mrs. Suit, whose comments during the floor debate were greeted with applause.

Delegate Harvey B. Morgan, Gloucester Republican, said the bill would have inhibited home buying in Virginia.

“Homeownership is one of the basic fundamentals for establishing one’s creditworthiness, one’s sense of self-worth and the participation in our society,” he said. “We should do virtually everything that we can to encourage homeownership. This bill would interfere with that.”

The lawmakers also approved a bill yesterday that will give health-insurance benefits to homosexual partners if they live together.

The legislation, sponsored by Delegate James Dillard, Fairfax Republican, passed 50-49. If it passes the Senate, it will allow an accident and sickness insurance policy to be extended to include coverage for people living in the same home as the insured.

Lawmakers said the bill has 50-50 chance of passing the more moderate Senate.

State law now allows coverage only for a spouse or dependent children.

The House gave preliminary approval yesterday to legislation that would rewrite the state’s antisodomy law to conform with the Supreme Court ruling striking down Texas’ statute last year. However, the Senate killed a version that would have weakened the penalties against anyone engaging in sodomy in a public place.

The House version makes sodomy a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine, if it is performed in a public place. The Senate bill would have made the crime a misdemeanor, lowering the punishment to a $500 maximum fine and no jail time.

The Virginia Crime Commission has recommended the state rewrite its antisodomy law after the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which repealed that state’s antisodomy law in private settings. Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore has resisted changing the law, saying it still can be partially enforced.

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The Senate postponed until next year legislation stating that contraception is not affected by state laws on abortion.

Supporters of the bill sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, said the measure is necessary because birth control is under attack in the General Assembly.

One bill pending in the House would prohibit public colleges from dispensing emergency contraceptives, also known as the “morning-after” birth-control pill. Another would require parental consent before a girl younger than 18 could get the pill. The bills won preliminary approval yesterday and will be on the House agenda for a final vote today.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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