Wednesday, April 19, 2006

RICHMOND — A Senate committee said yesterday that it will review the explanation of a homosexual “marriage” amendment set to appear on the November ballot after opponents argued it includes persuasive language.

Homosexual rights advocates say the draft explanation — which eventually will be in registrars’ offices and newspapers statewide — violates state rules of neutrality by adding a paragraph explaining what the law doesn’t do.

While homosexual “marriage” already is illegal in the state, residents will vote on an amendment that proponents say will ensure that Virginia doesn’t have to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in other states.

Opponents have argued the amendment’s broad language could have unintended effects for all unmarried couples.

State law requires a neutral explanation of any proposed amendment be distributed to voters at least 90 days before it goes to the ballot. That explanation is crafted by the Division of Legislative Services working with the state attorney general.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee yesterday received a copy of a draft including revisions made by Republican Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell. It includes the addition of a single paragraph that explicitly limits marriage to one man and one woman and specifies that the state won’t create a legal status mimicking marriage or recognize any such status created elsewhere.

A previous draft, which Mr. McDonnell had not reviewed, separated each point.

His draft also adds a line specifying that the law is not meant to target relationships unless they mimic “the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage.”

By adding a line that specifically targets that argument, Mr. McDonnell crossed the line from explanation to advocacy, said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, campaign manager for the Commonwealth Coalition, a group organized to block the amendment.

The attorney general’s press secretary, J. Tucker Martin, said Mr. McDonnell’s office is willing to negotiate on wording.

“We’re comfortable with the original language we submitted,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re ready to work with the senators and Legislative Services to craft language that pleases our parties.”

The Senate committee will have until August to agree on language. Its House counterpart also will have to approve language.

“If they don’t approve the same language, they’ll end up with a mess,” Miss Gastanaga said. “And if we don’t think the language is neutral, they’ll end up with a lawsuit.”

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