- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — The Senate yesterday approved a bill prohibiting the recognition of same-sex civil unions from other states, a move one senator said tells homosexuals to “essentially stay out of Virginia.”

A bill sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, passed with a veto-proof margin of 27-10. It would add a section to the state’s Affirmation of Marriage Act banning civil unions and other partnership contracts “purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage.”

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, said the legislation is needed to prevent court challenges from Virginians who travel to other states for civil unions, then try to get their legal rights recognized in Virginia.

Vermont is the only state where civil unions legally can be performed.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat, said Virginia would be heading in the wrong direction with the bill, warning that companies might avoid moving to a state where their employees do not feel welcome.

“We’re telling these people who happen to be gay, essentially, ‘Stay out of Virginia,’” Mr. Saslaw said. “‘We want to make it as inhospitable as possible for you all to live in this state.’ I don’t know how else you can describe this bill. No more, no less. ‘Get out.’”

Mr. Saslaw said the Maryland legislature killed a similar measure last week, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he supports civil unions.

“Once again, we’ll be at the back end of history,” he said, referring to Virginia’s reluctance to accept interracial marriages in the 1960s.

Mr. Marshall’s bill now goes before Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, who has not taken a position on it. The legislation earlier passed the House, 79-18.

Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat, said she has been contacted by residents concerned about the effect on businesses relocating to Virginia and on successful homosexual professionals moving out. She questioned the motives of the bill’s supporters.

Sen. William C. Mims, Loudoun County Republican, rejected Mrs. Howell’s arguments and said the bill’s purpose was to clarify and strengthen what already is Virginia public policy. He said the state’s Affirmation of Marriage Act was drawn so narrowly in 1997, it might not cover civil unions or similar partnerships that are legal in other states.

“The intention, clearly, is to ensure that the full faith and credit of the laws of the commonwealth are not given to certain statuses that would be against the public policy of [Virginia],” he said.

The legislature has passed a resolution this year urging Congress to propose amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Another measure that would have allowed employers to offer health-insurance benefits to homosexual domestic partners died in a Senate committee after barely passing the House.

Despite some marked objections, the Senate yesterday approved House changes to a bill that would give convicted felons more leeway to introduce new evidence proving their innocence.

The Senate unanimously accepted most of the House amendments to a bill sponsored by Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, but debated a change that would restrict prisoners to filing only one writ of actual innocence.

Mr. Cuccinelli said the change defeats the purpose of the bill, which seeks to lift the state’s “21-day rule” for inmates who try to introduce new evidence after being sentenced. Virginia’s current law is the strictest in the nation.

The bill now goes to Mr. Warner who has said he supports it in concept but needs to see the specifics.

Legislators carved out an exception to the rule several years ago for DNA evidence, but claims based on other types of evidence have to be made within 21 days of a defendant’s sentencing.

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