Monday, February 7, 2005

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate yesterday approved a constitutional amendment that defines traditional marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The Senate voted 30-10 to pass the amendment after an emotional 30-minute debate during which several Democrats likened the measure to the Holocaust and to the days when Virginia banned interracial marriage.

The House today is expected to debate and approve its version of the amendment, which also bans civil unions. If the measure passes the House, Virginia would be the first jurisdiction in the region to approve such action.

The amendment must pass the full legislature again next year before it is sent to voters in November 2006.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican, told his colleagues he sponsored the measure to protect the state from liberal judges who he thinks one day could force Virginia to honor same-sex “marriage” established in other states like Massachusetts, where such unions are legal.

“In many quarters of our nation, marriage is under attack,” Mr. Newman said. “Many have asked what will be the end of marriage ultimately. I strongly believe that one state, one day will change the definition of marriage.”

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said yesterday he thinks the amendment is redundant.

“I don’t support gay marriage,” he said. “But it is already the law that we don’t recognize gay marriage. Virginia’s legislature has been on record with this subject a couple of times already. It seems to be a wave that is spreading through the country.”

Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down bans on same-sex “marriage,” and a judge on Friday said such bans in New York violate the state constitution, a ruling that, if not overturned on appeal, would allow homosexuals to “wed” in that state.

Last year, 13 states voted to amend their constitutions to define traditional marriage, bringing to 17 the number of states that have such amendments.

Sen. Mamie E. Locke, who is black, told her colleagues she opposed the amendment and quoted civil rights leader Martin Luther King and the Rev. Martin Niemoeller, a Protestant pastor best known for stating that the Germans failed to speak out against the Nazis.

“It is xenophobia that led to the rise of Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy. It is homophobia that brings us to this place in time today,” the Hampton Democrat said. “There are just some issues about which one cannot remain silent, especially those issues that chip away at the rights of human beings because they are different, and because that difference makes us uncomfortable.”

Sen. Janet D. Howell said Nazis “exterminated” homosexuals after branding them with pink triangles and passing a series of restrictive laws.

“It was incremental, one step after another down the path to the death camps,” the Fairfax County Democrat said. “In Virginia today, we do not require pink triangles. We stigmatize and marginalize people in other ways as we go down a path that we don’t know where it will end.”

Mr. Newman said the amendment was not meant to be intolerant. “It’s not about banning a particular lifestyle, it is about protecting marriage,” he said.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat, said homosexuals’ exchanging vows doesn’t hurt marriage between a man and woman.

“The homosexual community isn’t the one that has made a mess of the marriage institution; it’s been people like us,” he said, noting the 52 percent divorce rate. “It ain’t the gay people who are going in there, it’s us. Bills like this are an incredible act of hypocrisy.”

The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia praised the amendment’s passage and criticized the Democrats for making the “offensive” remarks.

“The millions of Virginians that support the marriage amendment would be appalled to know that some members of the Senate today likened them to Nazis,” said Victoria Cobb, executive director of the family values group. “Those senators that made these offensive remarks owe every Virginian that supports traditional marriage an apology.”

Before adjourning last night, the House passed a bill that requires adoption officials during the screening process to ask whether a person is homosexual. The measure passed on a 71-24 vote and now must be considered in the Senate.

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