- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

A state constitutional marriage amendment designed to motivate conservative voters and help Virginia Sen. George Allen’s re-election campaign appears to be backfiring, at least among black voters.

The Republican senator probably will benefit from evangelical Christians voting for the amendment. But, the amendment also will drive turnout among the state’s black voters, many of whom are questioning whether Mr. Allen is racially insensitive and deserves a second term.

Virginia’s black voters support the amendment, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, by more than 60 percent, according to most polls. They also overwhelmingly favor Mr. Allen’s Democratic challenger James H. Webb Jr.

The black vote is even more crucial this year than most, as Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb are nearly tied in statewide polls leading up to Tuesday’s election.

“My people don’t see it as a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. They see it as a societal issue,” said the Rev. Milton R. Blount, pastor of the predominantly black New Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Va.

Mr. Blount said his congregants are overwhelmingly in favor of defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but they also are traditionally Democratic voters.

Marriage amendments on state ballots in 2004 helped drive turnout among Republican voters and secured President Bush’s re-election.

Virginia’s majority Republican legislators kept that in mind over the past two years as they crafted the amendment and ensured its placement on the 2006 ballot.

Most Republicans would only smile when asked whether the amendment’s timing was a gift to Mr. Allen, a former Virginia delegate and governor. Privately, they acknowledged they wanted to help Mr. Allen, thinking a large re-election margin would help position him for a 2008 presidential run.

Now, after Mr. Allen has been accused of making racial slurs when he was younger and his highly publicized “macaca” moment, a high turnout of black voters for the amendment might cost Mr. Allen a few crucial percentage points in the neck-and-neck race.

Political observers also think the evangelical vote could be depressed next week because of the congressional page scandal in Washington.

Mr. Allen and most Republican voters favor the marriage amendment as necessary to protect against what they call “activist judges.” Mr. Webb opposes the amendment, saying it is unnecessary and would restrict the rights of unmarried heterosexual couples.

The Rev. Charles H. Miller Jr., a pastor from the predominantly black First Church of Jesus Apostolic in Altavista in Southside Virginia, said black voters will side with the amendment because “that is what the word of God teaches.”

He recently told his local newspaper that he supports the amendment not “referencing any political party but rather a statement respecting Christian principles.”

“I just believe that marriage is man and woman. No gray areas in between,” agreed the Rev. Samuel Griffith, a pastor at Union Street Missionary Baptist Church in Danville, Va.

Twenty percent of Virginia’s population is black, according to the 2004 census. Mr. Allen won 20 percent of the black vote when elected governor in 1993, and 17 percent in his 2000 Senate election.

A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post showed that Mr. Webb is supported by blacks 81 percent to 11 percent. That same group supported the amendment 61 percent to 34 percent in the poll.

Opponents of the amendment are well-funded and organized, with a large grass-roots operation to turn out voters in Northern Virginia.

Opponents say the measure is unnecessary because same-sex couples already are forbidden from exchanging vows in Virginia. They also say the amendment’s language would affect opposite-sex unmarried couples.

That argument has helped shrink support for the amendment, but it is still expected to pass.

The Rev. Benjamin W. Robertson, pastor of Cedar Street Baptist Church of God in Richmond, believes in traditional marriage but plans to vote against the amendment.

“I am the longest-serving pastor in Virginia, and no one has ever asked me to perform a same-sex marriage,” he said, adding he fears the amendment would affect heterosexual couples.

Mr. Robertson would not say which candidate he favors. The pastor said many black voters don’t like Mr. Allen because he has not voted to increase the minimum wage and he once voted against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday.

He said Mr. Webb is still an unknown to voters.

Others agreed, citing Mr. Webb’s past suggestion that affirmative action was unfair to poor whites. He has since tempered those comments.

“I’m not comfortable with either one,” said Mr. Blount, who is undecided.

Mr. Webb, who also has the backing of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, was endorsed last week by Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who became the nation’s first elected black governor in 1990.

Mr. Allen has been endorsed by state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, a black Richmond Democrat. Both Mr. Wilder and Mr. Lambert oppose the marriage amendment, as do members of the legislative black caucus.

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