- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

RICHMOND — A legislative panel yesterday approved a proposed explanation of a ban on homosexual “marriage” that voters will consider in the November general election.

The 12-6 vote by the House Privileges and Elections Committee angered a lobbyist for homosexual rights advocates. Claire Guthrie Gastanaga said the wording violates a state law requiring neutrality in the state’s explanations of proposed constitutional amendments.

The explanation will appear in literature provided by the State Board of Elections.

“It’s the position of one side,” Miss Gastanaga told reporters after the meeting. “I would have no problem if both sides were being presented.”

Miss Gastanaga said she was troubled by a paragraph stating that certain legal rights and benefits will remain available to unmarried people, including domestic-violence protections, the right to buy property together and the right to designate someone to make end-of-life decisions.

Those assurances directly contradict the position of the amendment’s opponents and amount to advocacy for the proposal, Miss Gastanaga said.

“It is a statement of legal opinion, not neutral fact,” she told the committee.

But David Johnson, a deputy attorney general, said it is appropriate and “legally defensible” to explain the proposal’s intent. The neutrality provision simply means the state cannot say “vote for this” or flatly state that an amendment’s opponents are wrong, he said.

Miss Gastanaga also said Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican who approved the explanation, should have recused himself from the process because he has advocated approval of a homosexual “marriage” ban and has helped raise money for groups supporting the proposal.

“It’s difficult to characterize him as neutral,” Miss Gastanaga said.

Mr. McDonnell’s top deputy, William C. Mims, said Miss Gastanaga’s “unfortunate comment” was off base.

“Virginians expect that their attorney general will speak out on important constitutional amendments going before the people,” he said in a telephone interview. “She’s put out a red herring, and I believe that thoughtful observers will recognize it for what it is.”

Mr. McDonnell said in a written statement that the explanation, which still must be approved by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, “concisely explains what the amendment says, and what it will do.”

The exact text of the amendment will be on the ballot in November. Supporters and opponents of the proposal are expected to wage a vigorous, high-profile campaign in the fall.

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