The Virginia Anti-Gay Law

Notice I said anti-gay, not just anti-gay marriage, which is how its backers are trying to push it. But as David Boaz points out at the Cato blog, gay marriage is already against the law in Virginia and this amendment goes far beyond just banning gay marriage. The amendment says:

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.

This language is about as broad as such an amendment can get. It requires all government agencies to refuse to recognize any contractual arrangement that carries with it any right, benefit, obligation, quality or effect of a marriage. That could mean no recognition of the legality of private custody agreements, private inheritence or end-of-life medical arrangements, or even recognition by public hospitals of private insurance benefits given as part of a union contract with a private company.

Now, the advocates of such amendments will say, "Oh, you're so paranoid. We would never go after such things and you're just whipping up hysteria to get people to vote against this." The ADF said this just the other day. But that's a lie. In Michigan and Ohio, after claiming the same thing, religious right groups immediately started filing suits to get rid of such benefits after passing similar, though still less broad, amendments in those states. The Virginia language is even worse than those, even more open to such broad interpretations. Don't listen to them when they say this won't affect benefits for unmarried couples; they're lying. As soon as it passes, they'll flip positions and start filing suits to do exactly what they claim the amendment won't do.

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That's really really bad.

I'm from Old Dominion, Hokie alumnus, and my wife graduated from ODU. I must say that this sort of liberties-stripping legislation is surprising, even in the red state of VA.

It's like the RR sees it in theocratic terms -- punish those who won't marry, punish the gays; while the far right sees the grin growing on the face of their corporate sponsors -- lowering costs related to healthcare and job benefits. It's really sad. I really hope Webb wins in VA.

I'm embarrassed to live in Virginia. I'm hopping on the secession bandwagon!
The only hope I can hold out is that if the poll were worded differently. The actual poll asked:
"Amendment One on the November ballot would add to the state's Constitution a definition of marriage as being ONLY the union of one man and one woman.
"It would also keep Virginia from creating or recognizing any legal status for relationships of unmarried persons that assign the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage.
"If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on Amendment One?"
It's no surprise then that (especially the more conservative, rural) Virginia would vote yes. But if they asked the poll with the exact wording of the amendment as stated above, it might just be different. This poll used the exact wording and found somewhat different results (but still found that more people supported the amendment than did not).

I've always thought that these bills are poorly written because they never define what qualifies as a benefit of marriage. Therefore, some future legislature can simply declare X to not be a benefit of marriage and then ensure that civil unions (hetero and homo) get such a benefit.

The homophobes really don't think things through. Many of the marriage benefits are actually family benefits, so bills like this looks to screw children out of their rights because they are not married to their parents.

Ed,
Don't worry too much about this BS law. Essentially it's forbidding a class of people from making contracts, period.

A law that says "gay people can't make contracts" is so unbelievably unconstitutional it can be ripped to shreds in seconds.

I'm from Virginia and ashamed by this, as I am by George Felix Macacca, but I'm more worried about Allen being reelected (which is why this BS measure is on the ballot) than this silly unconstitutional law.

Brian -

It makes me curious if they were polled with a frame that described similar amendments in Michigan and the results of those being passed, how it would come out. In my expierience with conservatives, most don't want same sex unions described as marriage but do not object to civil unions, to provide legal protections to same sex couples. I imagine that the clearer it is that this amendment would prohibit all such unions and would be hitting the courts before the ink was dry on said amendment, it would be shot down a firm majority. Certainly there are bigots out there who would happily pass an amendment, criminalizing gay relationships altogether - but they are a fringe minority. Most conservatives have a live and let live attitude about GLBTs - they just don't want the state to recognize their relationships as marriage. Not that I agree with that, at least in the current framework, but it is a lot different attitude than this amendment expresses.

I still think that a huge step in the direction of ending this debate is to abolish marriage as a civil institution. It would eliminate the state's recognition of any marriage - thus no one could argue that they are being forced to recognize the marriage of any group they believe should be restricted from it. It would also allow those who don't wish to identify their relationship as a marriage, the same legal protections married couples have. I also think that under such a framework, the state would have the burden of proof, to deny certification to a relationship - i.e. they would have to prove such a relationship is a signifigant danger to society or an individual.

I realize that many folks would still push their bigot agenda, but it would carry very little momentum with the general public. The people who would still try to deny GLBT relationships cert, under such a framework are a fringe minority.

I live in NoVA, myself. I think the amendment would most likely struck down by the Supremes, a la Romer , but who wants to be the very expensive test case. It also may be vague and over-broad.

That being said, it should also be noted that this amendment would fail in NoVA, only the bigots down south are supporting it by the majorities that would carry.

They take our road money and taxes, for Podunk, VA... There's a West Virginia; maybe it's time for a North Virginia!

I still think that a huge step in the direction of ending this debate is to abolish marriage as a civil institution

I've never really understood this argument especially given that marriage has always been a civil institution that religion later embraced. It's odd to me how people view it as a religious ceremony/event and ignore the long and original history of marriage as a contract itself.

Whether it is passed or not, struck down or not, enforced or not, probably isn't really that important to the people who got it on the ballot as long as it brings the "values voters" out in droves once again. They've already banned gay marriage, but what's the harm in claiming to ban it again if it gets out the vote? If it happens to pass and have real effects, so much the better, right?

By Troublesome Frog (not verified) on 18 Oct 2006 #permalink

Chance said:

I still think that a huge step in the direction of ending this debate is to abolish marriage as a civil institution

I've never really understood this argument especially given that marriage has always been a civil institution that religion later embraced. It's odd to me how people view it as a religious ceremony/event and ignore the long and original history of marriage as a contract itself.

The argument is that the other side claims marriage is "sacred", so we are offering to let them have it as such. There are already millions of people in this country in marriages that some church considers invalid: just go all the way with that. Separate the religious from the civil and give them different names.

The Ridger's solution gets my vote. It makes a lot of sense, and you'd have to be an idiot to oppose it. Oh. Wait a minute...

I've always thought that these bills are poorly written because they never define what qualifies as a benefit of marriage. Therefore, some future legislature can simply declare X to not be a benefit of marriage and then ensure that civil unions (hetero and homo) get such a benefit.

It's worse than that, Reed, because these laws don't even define a "man" and a "woman." That may not seem like a big deal, but the intersexed do exist, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, in this country alone. These people are not completely "men" or "women," because they have ambiguous physical and/or genetic make-ups. What gender is a child with XY chromosones, but female genetalia? What about a child who has half its cells XY and half just X? Who do they get to marry?

The reality is these "marriage protection" laws are nothing but gay bashing, because no one is interested in actually enforcing them. By any reasonable analysis of the wording, no intersexed people can marry at all, but there is never a mechanism set up to stop them. The only thing that these laws try to stop are gay and lesbian unions.

Interestingly, given the furor in the "pro-family" world over Condi Rice's use of the term "mother-in-law" to refer to the mother of a partner of the new AIDS czar, I wonder how long after these laws pass will the "pro-family" movement wait to really attack gay unions. We already know they are going after health benefits, and in VA may even attack simple things like wills, but I doubt they will stop there. How long until venues that host commitment ceremonies are sued or shut down for violating the law? How long until churches that have same-sex commitment ceremonies are targeted?

If I were the only gay legislator in VA (which I am not), I would work to insert innocuous language calling for enforcement of the "one man-one woman" marriage laws, which would require some proof from both the bride and groom that they were actually the genders they present before a license to wed would be issued. Of course, the only "proof" allowed would be genetic testing, which with any luck would be horribly expensive and a real roadblock to the issuing of licenses. I wonder then how strongly people would want to "protect" marriage?

And of course, there's nothing in there about "one man, one woman, once" which was Jesus' preferred model (for others, I guess, though).

Chance said -
It's odd to me how people view it as a religious ceremony/event and ignore the long and original history of marriage as a contract itself.

Oddly, the supposed religiosity of marriage never really entered into my reasoning when I realized that it should be abolished as a civil institution. I actually decided I didn't ever want to have any relationship I might get into identified as marriage. I grew up in the eighties and all my friends parents who went through divorces, many of them several, really turned me off to the whole institution. Realising I might one day be in a relationship that is that powerful, I thought it might be nice to have the same legal protections afforded those who are married.

Upon further reflection, I thought, why the hell should the state have any interest in approving or disaproving what kind of relationships people get into. Gays can't marry. Polygamy is illegal. There are complicated, disjointed laws about family members marrying. It even used to be illegal for members of different races to marry.

The logical solution was, to me, the abolition of marriage as a civil institution. The fact that it also is an obvious solution the "sanctity of marriage" issue is just a big plus to me.

The argument is that the other side claims marriage is "sacred", so we are offering to let them have it as such. There are already millions of people in this country in marriages that some church considers invalid: just go all the way with that. Separate the religious from the civil and give them different names.

Yes but they are few and far between. The majority aren't that way but your point is well taken. It doesn't matter a wit if they think something is sacred or not. You have the contract you have a marriage. It's always been so.

I think having the state invloved in marriage is one of the few times I actually support government.