Gay issues top debate in Va.
Legislature fiercely divided
Published Thursday, 08-Jan-2004 in issue 837
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — It’s been a big year for gay rights, from the Supreme Court’s rejection of anti-sodomy laws to the Massachusetts high court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage.
But don’t expect the Virginia legislature to join the love fest.
“If I’m the last person on the face of this Earth to vote against legalizing sodomy, I’ll do it,” said Republican Del. Richard H. Black, one of the legislature’s most conservative members.
Black is not alone. Republican lawmakers warn that any attempt by Democrats to advance gay rights during the upcoming General Assembly session will be met with fierce opposition.
Rather, lawmakers look certain to consider a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment on the sanctity of marriage and a bill that would prevent Virginia from recognizing gay civil unions performed in other states. The General Assembly convenes Jan. 14.
“Civil unions are the predicate for homosexual marriage,” Black said. “I think we need to get in tune with the times. We really don’t want to recognize any sort of marriage unless it’s a marriage between a man and a woman.”
Gay rights proponents said, however, they are not pushing to legalize gay marriages yet. It’s Republicans, they say, who are bringing gay issues to the fore in an attempt to stem the growing momentum for gay rights nationwide.
“Apparently, they feel alarmed that some day gay people will seek justice in Virginia,” said Del.-elect Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who will be the only openly gay member of the legislature.
But Ebbin said he has no plans to introduce legislation seeking a repeal of Virginia’s anti-sodomy law, which remains on the books despite a June Supreme Court ruling making it unconstitutional. Virginia law prohibits sodomy between consenting adults — even married couples — although it has not been used against married heterosexuals in years.
As for civil unions, Ebbin said it’s a moot issue because Virginia already bans gay marriages, and no couple has ever tried to get a civil union recognized in any state outside Vermont.
“I don’t think it’s at the top of people’s minds in Virginia,” he said. “I think the Democrats are more focused on our first order of business, which is to pass a budget and to address the tax system to make it more fair.”
The biggest pro-gay rights bill is being drafted by the state’s largest gay advocacy group, Equality Virginia, which would allow private companies in Virginia to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners.
Dyana Mason, executive director of the group, said small- and medium-sized companies underwritten by the state are currently unable to do so. A similar bill failed to move out of committee last session.