Sunday, January 30, 2005

RICHMOND — Lawmakers in Virginia this week are expected to endorse several measures in support of traditional marriage, a move they say is necessary because they believe the institution is under attack.

The Senate will debate the merits of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The proposal, authored by Sen. Stephen D. Newman, would place the question on state ballots in November 2006.

The Lynchburg Republican said his amendment is a defensive measure to prevent the recognition of same-sex unions performed in other states.

“I do not believe that we are here because those individuals who want to defend marriage brought us here,” he said. “We are here because there is another element in America today that has made it very clear that going after the current definition of marriage and changing that definition of marriage is a stated goal.”

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

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee passed Mr. Newman’s amendment. Three Democrats voted against it.

The House has several identical constitutional amendments pending in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

Both chambers are likely to approve the amendments, which do not need the approval of Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to be implemented.

Last year, 13 states defined marriage with constitutional amendments. There are now 17 states that recognize only traditional marriage.

The Family Foundation of Virginia, a conservative family-values group that supports the amendment, said it believes the measure will pass quickly since Republicans and Democrats alike have voted for it.

“The effort of pro-homosexual groups to redefine marriage through the courts leaves the General Assembly with no choice but to protect the definition of marriage,” said Victoria Cobb, the group’s executive director.

Equality Virginia, the state’s primary homosexual-rights group, has vowed to lobby against the amendments and to push for the repeal of a civil-unions ban lawmakers passed overwhelmingly last year.

The civil-unions 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 lawsuit challenging the ban is pending.

Delegate Mitchell van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat, tried to repeal the civil- unions ban, but his bill was rejected on a 17-3 vote in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Dyana Mason, Equality Virginia’s executive director, said her organization believes an amendment would “codify discrimination.”

Kim I. Mills, a board member with the local homosexual-rights group Equality Fairfax, said she opposes the amendments.

“There’s no reason for it,” she said. “Equality Fairfax hopes lawmakers pass laws to make all the citizens of Virginia equal.”

Meanwhile, the House today is scheduled to debate a bill that would create a special license plate for the supporters of traditional marriage.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, said proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to the state’s general fund.

The House Transportation Committee passed the bill on a 13-7 vote. Three Republicans and four Democrats voted against it.

Miss Mills said she believes the plates are unnecessary.

“If the legislature in its wisdom decides to approve this, I’d like to see a plate that talks about supporting equality and equal marriage rights,” she said.

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

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