Tuesday, October 24, 2006

RICHMOND — The fight over a proposed constitutional ban of same-sex “marriage” is heating up as both sides of the debate deliver their final sales pitches two weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

Yesterday, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, and his father-in-law, former Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., a Republican, encouraged Virginians to oppose the amendment, saying the proposal is excessive because the state already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and its “ambiguous” language could lead to unintended consequences for unmarried couples.

“In states that have passed similar language, the ability of partners who are not married to obtain the social service and other protections of family courts have been thrown into jeopardy by this language, and I think that would be a very negative consequence,” Mr. Kaine said, before signing with his wife and Mr. Holton, a statement from 200 lawyers and legal scholars in opposition of the amendment.

“We’re talking in this amendment about fooling around with [the Virginia Constitution] in a way that will create confusion and unfortunately litigation for two or three generations,” said Mr. Holton, who has at times been at odds with Republicans for supporting Democrats. “It just runs a serious risk of messing up our constitution.”

Their remarks clash with the opinions of most Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Attorney General Bob McDonnell and Sen. George Allen, who say traditional marriage must be protected from “activist judges.”

“The proposed amendment preserves marriage as a union solely between one man and one woman, while not limiting or infringing upon the current legal or civil rights of unmarried Virginians,” Mr. McDonnell said yesterday. “The argument regarding alleged unintended consequences is completely wrong and legally unsupportable.”

Political analysts agree that the amendment could motivate conservatives to turn out for Mr. Allen, who is in a tight race against Democrat James H. Webb Jr. for the U.S. Senate. Mr. Webb opposes the amendment.

A poll conducted by The Washington Post earlier this month showed that 53 percent of Virginians support the marriage amendment, while 43 percent oppose it.

The proposed amendment in Virginia, which the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed in consecutive legislative sessions, has fueled an emotional and costly campaign, according to financial reports filed with the State Board of Elections.

The Commonwealth Coalition, a group of homosexual rights activists and religious and business organizations, has raised $761,089 since July 1 and has spent $390,316 trying to defeat the amendment.

Amendment supporter Va4marriage.org, an affiliate of the Richmond-based Family Foundation, has raised $204,667 and spent $136,915 over the same period.

Nationwide, homosexual rights activists hope the tide turns this year as voters in eight states — including Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado — decide Nov. 7 whether to approve similar constitutional bans.

Recent history shows they are going against the odds. So far, voters in 20 states have approved such amendments.

“The proponents of the amendment always have the upper hand,” Mr. Kaine said. “So we are all standing here fighting the good fight, recognizing we are fighting an uphill battle.”

Anne Holton, Mr. Kaine’s wife and a former family court judge, said one of the reasons these amendments have been so successful “is that folks think it is pro-marriage.”

“It is false advertising to say this is a pro-marriage amendment,” she said. “It does absolutely nothing to protect or strengthen marriage. … This may be the time when people stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute. What … is this all about?’”

She said the amendment could hurt child-custody laws and undermine the domestic-violence laws for both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Politically, the battle has fallen largely along party lines.

At a debate Monday in Richmond, Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, reportedly said that “marriage is under attack” and that passing the amendment would “stop the gay agenda.”

Last week, Delegates Franklin P. Hall and Dwight Clinton Jones, Richmond Democrats, summed up the opposition of six members of the Richmond delegation.

“We are particularly concerned about removing the protections of our domestic-violence laws from unmarried victims, depriving unmarried couples of the comfort of their loved ones in time of medical crisis, or exposing Virginia businesses … to an unpredictable risk of litigation and the inability to stay competitive in hiring the best employees in a very competitive job market,” they said.

Leaders on both sides of the issue are targeting college campuses, trying to woo young voters. The Associated Press reported that there were more than 400,000 registered voters ages 18 to 25 in Virginia last year, according to the State Board of Elections.

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