- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Lawmakers in Virginia are aiming to place the commonwealth at the forefront of the nation’s battle against same-sex unions when the General Assembly reconvenes next week.

The legislature will consider a state constitutional amendment to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman, by reaffirming the traditional definition of marriage.

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

Lawmakers also will consider creating a special driver’s license plate for supporters of traditional marriage. The license plate would feature two interlocked golden wedding bands over a red heart.

“You can see the handwriting on the wall,” said Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican. “Thirteen out of 13 states passed these amendments.”

Last year, 13 states voted to amend their constitutions to forbid same-sex “marriages,” bringing to 17 the number of states that have such amendments.

Both measures have a good chance of passing Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, which begins its session Jan. 12. The legislature overwhelmingly has approved previous efforts to support traditional marriage.

Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican, authored the marriage amendment.

The legislature must approve the amendment two years in a row before sending the measure to the voters. That means voters would decide on the measure in November 2006, when Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, is up for re-election. Mr. Allen opposes same-sex unions.

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

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, has proposed the license-plate bill. He said proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to the state’s general fund.

“If you support traditional marriage, you might want to make a statement about your views,” Mr. Lingamfelter said. “The American people in November made a very, very clear statement in favor of traditional marriage. You saw it again and again across the country. It’s for people who want to signify their support for something that has seemed to have worked for 4,000 years.”

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said he isn’t sure whether the issue should be featured on license plates.

“Our license plates kind of turn too much into political sloganeering on either end of the spectrum,” Mr. Warner told The Washington Times last month.

“It would probably be better policy if everyone on both sides agreed that maybe you can put your sports team or your college on your license plate,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with putting a bumper sticker that advocates a political position, but the state approving political statements of any type maybe ought not to be on a license plate.”

Mr. Warner said he thinks a constitutional amendment is not necessary because of the existing bans on same-sex “marriages,” even though he is against such unions.

Last year, the legislature passed an amendment to the state’s Affirmation of Marriage Act to prohibit recognition of same-sex unions performed in other states. It bans civil unions, “partnership contracts” or other arrangements between homosexuals.

Homosexual rights advocates mounted statewide protests and a legal challenge when the ban went into effect in July. The lawsuit is ongoing.

They argue that the law is too broad and could prevent same-sex relatives or business partners from entering into contracts, such as those required for purchasing property, and that wills between same-sex partners could be challenged.

Mr. Warner had tried to amend the bill by deleting the phrase “partnership contract or other arrangement.” But the legislature rejected his amendments and enacted the law without his signature.

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

Mr. Warner said that “other than politics” he doesn’t see why a constitutional amendment should be added.

Equality Virginia, the state’s primary homosexual rights lobbying group, plans to rally against the amendment at the state Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 13.

The group also has formed a political action committee to fund and endorse candidates who share the organization’s priorities.

Executive Director Dyana Mason said Equality Virginia wants to engage lawmakers in a debate and started the PAC “to make sure that our voices are heard throughout the process.”

Miss Mason said her group supports Mr. Van Yahres’ bill and has been preparing for the constitutional amendment battle.

“Virginia has a long history of being last out of the gates for extending civil rights,” she said. “This is just another example of that. In Virginia, we are always prepared for attacks.”

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