- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

RICHMOND — The House yesterday approved a bill that would create a special “Traditional Marriage” license plate for Virginia motorists.

Delegates voted 62-35 in support of the bill and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

During a debate on the measure yesterday, a Republican and a Democrat spoke against the bill, arguing that the special license plate makes a mockery of marriage.

Delegate R. Lee Ware said instead of license plates, lawmakers should focus their attention on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Because it is a matter of gravity, a matter of this kind of gravity, I think we trivialize it to reduce it to a commuter plate,” the Powhatan Republican said. “I am looking forward to a serious debate of a serious social matter.”

Delegate Robert H. Brink said the marriage plate bordered on “uncharted territory in license plate land” and does a “grave disservice” to marriage.

“Putting marriage in the same class as license plates for Holstein cows, Parrotheads and Harley-Davidson owners … cheapens and trivializes marriage,” the Arlington Democrat said. “Using marriage as a political football is just wrong and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Mr. Brink also said many lawmakers might feel pressured to vote in support of the bill so they aren’t labeled by their opponents as “anti-marriage” in the November election.

“Down my way, you’re dead in the water if you vote against it,” Delegate Jackie T. Stump, of Buchanan County, said during a House Democratic caucus meeting this week.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican who authored the bill, encouraged delegates to vote for it. “Send a message to the commonwealth that you’re not ashamed of traditional marriage,” he said.

Some Democrats have said they believe the bill is unconstitutional.

The license plate would feature two interlocked golden wedding bands over a red heart and would bear the phrase “Traditional Marriage” in capital letters. Proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to the state’s general fund.

The House yesterday tentatively approved legislation allowing localities to license abortion clinics.

Without debate, the House also voted 69-28 to pass a bill requiring abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers. That bill now goes to the Senate, where similar measures have died in committee two years in a row.

The bill authorizing local governments to adopt ordinances requiring licensing of abortion clinics advanced on an unrecorded voice vote. A final House vote is set for today.

Both bills apply to clinics that perform at least 25 first-trimester abortions annually.

Several college presidents yesterday urged a Senate committee to approve legislation giving all of Virginia’s public universities greater control over their finances and operations.

The 82-page measure — a combination of two previously filed bills — was distributed to the Education and Health Committee a few minutes after the hearing started. Chairman Russell H. Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, told members he expected them to read the bill overnight and be prepared to vote at a special meeting today.

The legislation grew out of a proposal by the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary to give up some state funding in exchange for more control over tuition, building projects, procurement and other matters.

Legislators balked at extending the additional flexibility to just three schools in the “chartered universities” proposal.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the measure offers more autonomy to all public universities while maintaining appropriate state oversight and accountability.

The legislation establishes three levels of autonomy, with universities enacting six-year plans intended to promote stability and predictability in tuition, enrollment growth and other matters.

All universities would be eligible for the first level of autonomy. Those seeking additional flexibility at the second level would operate under a “memorandum of understanding” while those at the top level would operate under a management agreement signed by legislative leaders and various administration officials.

Alan G. Merten, president of George Mason University in Fairfax, said the measure “will make us more effective and more efficient.”

The presidents of Virginia Tech, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia also endorsed the bill, as did the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System and the executive director of the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia.

Virginia’s religious leaders yesterday spoke out against a bill that affects how property is divvied up when congregations choose to secede from a church or diocese.

Senate Bill 1305 would give congregations that break away from their denomination leverage to retain control of church property.

Critics of the bill contend it was drafted in response to the 2003 consecration of the first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop. Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s consecration angered many Episcopalians, who also protested the church’s decision to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

In the Episcopal Church, all church property is held in trust by the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Currently, if a church decides to withdraw from the diocese and the Episcopal Church, the church property remains with the diocese. The bill, sponsored by Sen. William C. Mims, Leesburg Republican, would give congregations that leave the church the power to vote to keep the property.

The bill also would allow seceding congregations to be independent of any church, diocese or society. Currently, congregations that break away are limited to joining another branch of the church or society.

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

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