- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

Advocates of traditional marriage in Virginia and Maryland say their top priority in the upcoming legislative sessions is lobbying for constitutional amendments that would provide a clear definition of the institution.

Virginia lawmakers have approved an amendment, but such legislation has failed repeatedly in Maryland.

Last month, Texas became the 19th state to amend its constitution to define marriage. Petition drives for 2006 ballots are under way in Arizona, California, Florida and Illinois.

Complicating the debate in Maryland is a lawsuit filed by nine same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses this year. The lawsuit is pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court, and a ruling is expected soon.

Maryland law defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, but family groups pledge to continue lobbying for a constitutional definition because of the pending lawsuit.

“We don’t think the one judge should be making decisions that affect not only Maryland culture, but the national culture,” said Doug Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby.

He said Maryland’s 1973 marriage law does not go far enough, and complained that lawmakers have blocked proposed marriage amendments from full floor votes in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate. If a proposed amendment passes both chambers by a three-fifths majority, it will go to voters in November.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, said he thinks a constitutional amendment subjects the rights of one group to popular vote.

“I would like to think that Maryland legislators have indicated they are not interested in limiting people’s rights,” he said.

Virginia’s proposed amendment is expected to be on the ballot in November.

During the 2005 legislative session, Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman and banning same-sex civil unions.

The measure must pass again during the 2006 session before it can go before voters. Virginia also has a law that bans civil unions.

Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said advocates of traditional marriage will speak at community and church meetings to raise voter support for the amendment. The group plans to educate voters on its Web site, www.va4marriage.org and run radio, television and newspaper advertisements.

“I really don’t think we have to convince Virginians that marriage should be protected, but this kind of an endeavor can never be taken lightly,” Mrs. Cobb said.

Mrs. Cobb and other advocates will try to bolster their position with Marriage Lobby Day in Richmond Jan. 16.

Equality Virginia will hold a lobby day Jan. 25 to press for opposition to the marriage amendment, a proposed ban on child adoption for same-sex couples and other measures that the group thinks restrict civil rights.

“We expect next year to be just as tough as last year,” said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia.

The November election indicated a demographic shift in the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, and voters unseated two social conservative Republicans in the House of Delegates.

In addition, voters who favored Democrat Timothy M. Kaine over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore in the governor’s race said they were more interested in economic and development issues than social matters.

Still, Miss Mason expects an uphill battle in Virginia.

“One would hope that folks recognize that the real issues are making sure Virginia is a well-run state and that they will not be so focused on the hot-button social issues, but it really remains to be seen,” she said.

The 90-day legislative session in Maryland and the 60-day session in Virginia begin Jan. 11.

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