Preaching to the Choir

Preaching to the Choir

Forum panelists opposed to the proposed marriage amendment find friendly audience.

Friends often tell Jonathan Weintraub that he and his partner bicker like an old married couple.

Weintraub, who’s in a 25-year monogamous gay relationship, takes it as a compliment. Other than by law, Weintraub of Loudoun County says he’s married in every way — even by squabbling standards.

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot this November has Weintraub and other gays and lesbians fearing overt government-sponsored discrimination.

The second paragraph of the amendment bans the recognition of any "legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage." (See box.)

“My relationship does approximate marriage,” said Weintraub of Loudoun County.

If passed, gays and lesbians will be driven back into the closet, or worse, out of Virginia, said Weintraub, addressing a crowd of about 65 people at an educational forum on the amendment Sunday at United Christian Parish in Reston.

PANELISTS AT THE FORUM, including Del. Ken Plum (D-36) and state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), spoke out against the amendment, facing what turned out to be a very like-minded audience.

While the amendment intends to prohibit same-sex marriages, which have been illegal in Virginia for 30 years, opponents say it will also have unintended, negative effects on all unmarried couples.

“This is such a fraud to say it’s about defending marriage,” said Howell, who argued that its placement on the ballot was political. She said the referendum was a ploy by Republican state legislators, who control the General Assembly, to help U.S. Sen. George Allen’s re-election campaign. “They’re using it to bring out their base,” said Howell.

Most worrisome to Howell are the effects the amendment could have on laws that protect people from domestic violence. “Whether they’re gay or straight, they are going to lose protections [if the amendment is passed],” said Howell.

AN ATTORNEY and business community representative on the five-person panel argued that the amendment could have large hidden costs for taxpayers.

“This amendment is a field day for lawyers everywhere,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, former Virginia assistant attorney general and panel speaker.

Guthrie Gastanaga told the audience that the “wordy” and “ambiguous” language in the amendment will invite litigation, potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Business leaders have opposed the amendment for similar reasons, arguing it could increase the cost and uncertainty of doing business in the state.

During a question and answer period, the crowd cheered and applauded when Reston resident Tom Phemister ended a question by calling the amendment a “bigoted piece of slime.”

Laura Robertson, a panelist who represented the Commonwealth Coalition, a group of homosexual rights advocates and religious and business organizations opposing the amendment, said people tend to oppose the amendment when they learn more about it. “An educated voter is a ‘no’ voter,” said Robertson, who urged the audience to read the amendment fully.

The forum, organized by the Reston Ministerium, a coalition of religious organizations, did not include a panelist who spoke in favor of the amendment.

ACCORDING TO A MASON-DIXON poll conducted from Sept. 5 through Sept. 7, supporters of the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage hold a commanding lead.

According to Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, 54 percent of respondents said they would vote in favor of the amendment, while 40 percent said they would vote no. Six percent said they were undecided.