Democratic lawmakers are gearing up for a new conflict in Richmond in the coming legislative session, one surrounding a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would place further restrictions on same sex marriages.
"This is redundant," said Arlington County Board member Jay Fissette, an openly gay man who is no stranger to speaking out in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians. "The Commonwealth already has some of the most extremely conservative laws restricting same sex marriages. It seems like conservative Republicans are stepping all over one another to push this agenda because they know what it does for their image among conservative voters."
The text of the amendment states that Virginia will ban same sex marriages and no longer recognize same sex marriages licensed in other states. Del. John Cosgrove (R-78) which includes the city of Chesapeake, filed the proposal, Joint Resolution 528, in October of 2004.
"To be valid or recognized in this Commonwealth, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman," it reads. "No provision of this Constitution shall be interpreted to require the Commonwealth to recognize or permit marriages between individuals of the same sex."
Cosgrove was unavailable for comment as of the Connection's press time. The General Assembly has passed several laws that ban gay marriage but Cosgrove's proposal could make the ban a permanent part of Virginia's governing document. And most lawmakers, even Democrats, believe the ban will have the support it needs to pass in the Assembly.
"It's a shame that we're going to be spending our time on yet another divisive issue when there are so many other problems we need to be looking at, transportation, education and many others," said Del. Bob Brink (D-48). "For conservatives, It's just a chance to get a little more political mileage out of this debate. In this passed year alone, the Assembly passed one of the most anti-gay laws of any state in the nation."
BRINK WAS REFERRING to the Marriage Affirmation Act. It states that the Commonwealth does not have to acknowledge civil union, partnership contracts or any other arrangements "purporting to bestow any of the privileges or obligations of marriage that are recognized in other states."
But the national debate over gay marriage is one known to draw conservatives to the polls.
"Republicans want to keep this issue alive because they don't have any others to bring forward that will get the same kind of response," said Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49). "To keep re-introducing the same bills and legislation is a diversionary tactic to keep us away from real issues. It also sends a hostile message to people who are gay or to lesbians."
In order to be adopted, the proposed amendment would have to pass by a simple majority in two legislative sessions. If passed it would then appear on the election ballot in 2006.
"Defining the concept of marriage is just the tip of the iceberg," Fissette said. "It looks like conservatives want to reach into contractual agreement, powers of attorney and will to do the same thing."