For the past 28 years, Virginia Reed and Gail Minnick have lived together in a monogamous lesbian relationship in their Herndon home.
The two women are listed in each other's wills. They have documents authorizing them to make financial and health-care decisions on the other's behalf, should one become incapacitated. And, last year, they exchanged wedding vows in Canada.
"As longtime partners, we obviously have a vested interest in maintaining our rights," said Reed, an employee of a Tysons Corner software firm.
"We just want the same rights as everyone else," said Minnick, a retiree who volunteers at Inova Fairfax Hospital. "It's a matter of equal rights."
Reed and Minnick were among 500 gay rights advocates from across Virginia who traveled to Richmond on last Wednesday to urge the General Assembly to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Their efforts, however, proved fruitless. The Virginia Senate gave final approval to the measure Wednesday in a 28-11 vote. The House of Delegates had previously adopted an identical bill in a 73-22 vote, all but guaranteeing that Virginia citizens will consider the question in a Nov. 7 referendum.
SEN. JEANNEMARIE DEVOLITES DAVIS (R-34), a Vienna resident, voted in favor of the constitutional amendment because she believes the people of Virginia should be allowed to decide the definition of marriage.
"It lets the citizens of Virginia decide, by majority vote, if this is what they want to do," she said.
Virginia, she said, must amend its 230-year-old Bill of Rights to eliminate the possibility of same-sex marriage because judges, such as in Maryland, are ruling that statutory same-sex marriage bans are discriminatory and unconstitutional.
"In light of these court decisions, it's really forcing states around the country to put this matter into their constitutions," she said.
Eighteen states have already amended their constitutions to define marriage as being between "one man and one woman" since 2003. Forty-two states, including Virginia, have statutory bans on same-sex marriage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Only Massachusetts grants marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Two states, Connecticut and Vermont, recognize civil unions.
Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37), a Centreville attorney, said he supported the constitutional amendment because it will "prevent the destruction of actual marriage" in Virginia.
"It's simply to protect marriage to the highest possible level for marriages both within Virginia and those from outside of Virginia," he said.
AS THE VIRGINIA SENATE debated the measure Wednesday, several Democrats from Northern Virginia said they opposed the initiative to write "discrimination" into Virginia's constitution.
"I feel this overwhelming sense of sadness today that we are doing something so intolerant, so discriminatory and so overreaching," said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31), who represents Arlington.
Opponents of the measure said the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment is so broad, it would not only ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, but also any other contracts or arrangements between unmarried couples.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), of Reston, said she voted against the proposed amendment because she does not want her granddaughter, Ella, to grow up in a world in which people are judged by their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
"She, I think, will ask did I create a world that followed the teachings of Jesus Christ that you should love thy neighbor?" Howell said. "I ask my colleagues to consider how their actions today will impact their children and their grandchildren."
THE REV. KHARMA AMOS, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Fairfax, was among the gay rights advocates Ñ organized by Equality Virginia Ñ who lobbied in Richmond last week for equal rights for gays and lesbians.
The definition of marriage, Amos said, should be left to individual faith communities.
"It's a matter of writing discrimination into Virginia's constitution," she said.
Hank Blakely of Reston traveled to Richmond on Wednesday with other members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston. "I think this constitutional amendment is criminal," he said. "It's just criminal."
Opponents of the same-sex marriage amendment vowed to spend the next nine months convincing Virginians to vote against it on Nov. 7.
"We don't need a constitutional amendment in Virginia. This is just mean," said Diane Puckett, a Fairfax therapist and mother of a gay son. "Gays and lesbians don't want extra rights. They just want to be treated like everyone else."