Before Dallas Miller moved to Fairfax City from South Carolina to live with his partner, he was more concerned about discrimination against gay men in the District — where he works as a psychologist and actor — than in Virginia.
But he found he had more to fear in Virginia.
"I was dismayed once I realized," he said.
Three years later, Miller still lives in Fairfax and active in efforts to resist legislation designed to make Virginia less gay-friendly. Last Wednesday, he joined about 1,000 other demonstrators for an afternoon rally outside the Fairfax County Government Center protesting the implementation of a new law forbidding same-sex couples to enter into contractual agreements.
The new law is "of dubious constitutionality and morally bankrupt," said Del. Brian Moran (D-46), speaking for Northern Virginia lawmakers who opposed the law and joined him on the stage.
"I am tired of having my equal rights diminished as being special rights. I am tired of ignorant legislators and spineless legislators passing bad laws that drive my friends to other states," said Jay Fisette, Arlington County Board Member and one of the state's only openly gay elected officials.
"I am tired of this president telling me that my 21-year relationship is a threat to his marriage," he added. "We're all tired. But more than tired, I'm angry."
<b>WHEN THE</b> legislation was drafted, gay and lesbian couples were lining up outside the San Francisco court house for marriage licenses and a Massachusetts court ordered that state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The legislation's sponsor, Del. Robert Marshall (R-13) did not return calls for this story. In a news release, he said this year's bill, House Bill 751, was intended to cement Virginia's opposition to same-sex marriage and was modeled on a 1997 law that banned recognition of such marriages from other states.
"We passed an almost identical law to HB 751 in 1997 banning recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriage," Marshall wrote.
Same-sex marriages are illegal in Virginia and state law does not allow local jurisdictions' human rights ordinances to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gay rights activists say that the latest bill goes even further in sweeping away legal protections gays and lesbians currently enjoy because it prohibits same-sex partners from entering into certain contracts. For instance, partners can not legally adopt each other's children. The new law may block partners from inheriting each other's property or making medical decisions on each other's behalf, say activists. And the law is broad enough that it might also affect two people who are not domestic partners from entering into some routine contracts.
Gov. Mark Warner (D) said the language in the bill was too broad and sought to amend it but his amendments were overturned by the General Assembly and the bill passed by a 69 to 30 margin in the House and a 27 to 12 margin in the Senate.
The gay rights group Equality Virginia is considering filling a lawsuit to halt the law's implementation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
Marshall disagreed. "Equality Virginia and the Log Cabin Republicans are cynically manipulating some Virginia citizens into thinking this law will take away individual rights they now enjoy so that can scare homosexual Virginians into giving money for a phony law suit," he wrote in his release.
<b>THE LAW HAS</b> prompted some gay Virginians to consider leaving the state. At the rally, Rev. Michael McGee of the Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church talked about his neighbors, a gay couple who may be moving away.
"How can we expect people like Steve and Scott to tolerate living in such an oppressive environment?" he said. "I've got to say this is heartbreaking and this is happening to people all over Virginia."
But many at the rally said they thought that leaving the state would be an abdication.
Donna Voigt, a lifelong resident of Virginia, said she was "ashamed of this state" but that she and her partner of 17 years would not move from their Falls Church home.
"We've talked about it but quite honestly that doesn't solve the problem," she said.
Jo Hamilton, her partner, said: "If everybody just left nothing would change."
Moving to another state would be a victory for those who are trying to discriminate, said Candy Cox, a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told.
"The idea is to make us disappear," she said. "If we defeat all of the people who voted for this legislation and we defeat them because they voted for it, this state will change," she said.