Saturday, May 17, 2003

Virginia state Delegate Robert G. Marshall believes colleges and universities should pursue the truth, not promote sex education.

That’s why this summer Mr. Marshall, Manassas Republican, is taking it upon himself to change the way Virginia institutions handle the subject. And he’s not wasting any time.

Mr. Marshall recently asked to meet with James Madison University President Linwood Rose, whose students last month held a so-called “SexFest” that included a demonstration of how to put on a condom. Mr. Marshall also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with officials at the University of Virginia to determine the school’s policy on emergency contraception (EC).

Mr. Marshall, 59, said he’s dismayed that public universities are dispensing EC and holding “sex fests.” He partly blames what he sees as a moral decline in America on the institutions because he says they have strayed from their primary purpose of pursuing truth.

“They can’t even think straight when it comes to sex, some of these people,” said Mr. Marshall, who is the state legislature’s most prolific author of anti-abortion bills. “They’re really skating on thin ice.”

Mr. Marshall said the recent string of incidents at some state universities raises the question about the role of today’s institutions.

“For a university to first not try to discover the truth is so profound. The university is not pursuing its first mission: discovery, cultivation and protection of the truth,” he said. “They want to cover up the truth so you can engage in behavior you wouldn’t otherwise.”

So last spring, Mr. Marshall decided to try to change how colleges handle sex education policies and practices.

In March, Mr. Marshall sent letters to 10 state-supported universities, asking officials to explain why their schools were giving EC, also known as the “morning-after” pill, to students.

Last month, Mr. Marshall sent a letter to University of Virginia President John T. Casteen, accusing the school of distributing EC since 1995, three years before the drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also filed a FOIA request with the school to determine whether officials keep any medical records of students who receive the contraception.

“A woman could go in six times for these pills, and they wouldn’t know,” he said.

In his letters, Mr. Marshall argued that EC is a form of abortion because it prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. He also claimed that its distribution violates state law, which requires that women seeking abortions receive information about the procedure and other alternatives and wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure.

The board of trustees at James Madison University quickly responded to Mr. Marshall’s letter. Last month, it banned the distribution of the morning-after pill on campus.

Mr. Marshall’s efforts didn’t get very far, however. Earlier this month, state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, ruled that the morning-after pill was not a form of abortion because it doesn’t terminate an existing pregnancy. Mr. Kilgore’s memo said each college’s board of visitors should be responsible for deciding EC dispensation in campus clinics.

Nevertheless, Mr. Marshall vowed to stop the distribution. “I want the policy changed. Parents I’ve talked to are appalled at this,” he said.

He then turned his attention to “SexFest 2003” at JMU. Mr. Marshall wrote a letter blasting Mr. Rose for not “providing better leadership” by allowing students to hold an event that included a simulation of the difficulty of putting on a condom while drunk.

Mr. Rose defended the April 26 event, saying it intended to teach students about safe sex.

Last week, Mr. Marshall asked to meet with Mr. Rose so they could “understand each other’s principles.” Mr. Rose has not yet responded to Mr. Marshall’s request, and could not be reached for comment for this story because he is out of town.

Mr. Marshall was raised in Maryland as a blue-collar Democrat. He supported John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968. A year later, he was alarmed by Maryland’s efforts to liberalize its abortion laws and wrote to Gov. Marvin Mandel in protest. He met his future wife, Cathy, at an anti-abortion organization meeting.

The liberal bent of George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid taught Mr. Marshall he was no Democrat. An unsuccessful independent bid for a Maryland House of Delegates seat in 1974 showed him the necessity of party moorings. He settled on the Republican Party in 1978, when he worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan, California Republican.

Today, Mr. Marshall is a six-term state delegate, who is running for re-election this fall. He lives in Manassas with his wife and four of their five children. One son, Christopher, 19, was killed in November 2001 when the car he was in ran into a tractor-trailer that was parked on an interstate highway off-ramp.

A devout Catholic, Mr. Marshall said he often prays for guidance. He applies principles from his faith to his career, but he said he tries to make his point from informed logic rather than blind faith. “The Ten Commandments, thought by some to be suggestions, are for our common good,” he said.

Mr. Marshall’s recent challenges against the universities have been criticized by Democrats and college students. But he has stood firm on his convictions. He said he’s only trying to limit the use of government money for “private pursuits.”

“Students can’t even fornicate without the help of the school nurse? That’s ridiculous. I’m not saying we should get involved with what goes on in the bedroom. Just keep the government money out of it. Let them spend their beer money on it.”

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

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