- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

RICHMOND — Virginia’s primary homosexual rights group and several religious leaders yesterday called on state lawmakers to repeal a ban on civil unions and said the group will lobby against a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of man and woman.

About 250 supporters of Equality Virginia and religious leaders, who turned out for the General Assembly’s second day of the session, acknowledged that they are facing an “uphill battle.”

Dyana Mason, the group’s executive director, said homosexuals throughout the state think they are being unfairly targeted.

“We are urban and rural, lawyers, teachers and plumbers. We are mothers and fathers and your brothers, sisters, neighbors and co-workers. We are Christian, and Jewish, black and white — we are Virginians,” Miss Mason said. “And we believe that the Virginia Constitution should never be the place to codify discrimination.”

Virginia law recognizes a marriage only between a man and a woman. It does not recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.

The civil-union ban, which is an amendment to the state’s Affirmation of Marriage Act, prohibits recognition of same-sex unions performed in other states. The amendment, which took effect last July, also bans “partnership contracts” or other arrangements between homosexuals.

The new law sparked statewide protest and a legal challenge, which is pending.

Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican, who authored this year’s proposed amendment, said he worries that “liberal” courts in Alexandria and Arlington County might find the civil-union ban unconstitutional. He said he thought a constitutional amendment would best protect traditional marriage.

The amendment has a good chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature. By law, the legislature must approve the amendment two years in a row before sending the measure to voters. The earliest voters would get the measure is November 2006.

The governor’s approval is not necessary for the amendment to be implemented.

The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia earlier this week said that Mr. Cosgrove’s marriage amendment will be its top priority during the session and that the election last fall strengthened family causes nationwide.

“Value voters were a major factor in the results,” said Victoria Cobb, the foundation’s executive director. “They showed that traditional values and traditional marriage matter.”

Miss Cobb also warned the state’s 140 legislators, 100 of whom are up for re-election this fall, to pay attention to the 13 states that defined marriage with constitutional amendments last year. There are now 17 states that recognize only traditional marriage.

“They should pay close attention to voter priorities,” Miss Cobb said.

During a press conference yesterday, several speakers said they oppose the proposed marriage amendment.

“To codify discrimination against same-sex couples by amending the constitution would be an act of violence against the very freedom that constitution claims to protect,” said the Rev. Kharma R. Amos, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia in Fairfax. “We must continue to work together until equality is a reality for all.”

The Rev. Don Prange, pastor of the St. James United Church of Christ in Lovettsville called the amendment “social terrorism.”

“The constitutional amendment being sought will only erode authentic liberty,” he said.

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, Arlington Democrat and the legislature’s only openly homosexual member, met with Equality Virginia yesterday and introduced the group on the House floor. The group received mild applause from the delegates.

Mr. Ebbin said he first came to the state Capitol years ago, when he was a volunteer lobbyist for the group.

Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun County Republican who is one of the legislature’s most socially conservative members, said he considers the amendment “a very big thing” facing lawmakers this year.

“It has a very powerful impact on the cultural discussion across America,” he said.

Lawmakers will take up several other items related to traditional marriage this year.

Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat, has proposed a bill that would repeal the civil-union ban.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, has proposed a bill that would create a special license plate for supporters of traditional marriage. The license plate would feature two interlocked golden wedding bands over a red heart. He said proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to the state’s general fund.

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