June 16, 2004
Regarding David Bradley’s June 9 article “Some plan protests of Virginia gay law”: Both the article and the bill’s patron, Del. Robert Marshall (R-13), have given the impression that HB 751, also known as the “Marriage Affirmation Act”, is about marriage. It is not. HB 751 is an amendment to Virginia’s 1997 DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which already clearly prohibits same sex marriage and civil unions.
What makes this law the most extreme anti-gay legislation anywhere in the country, and the reason that Governor Warner attempted to veto it, is that it contains the additional phrase “contracts or other arrangements that purport to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage”. Marriage or civil unions, which Gov. Warner opposes, are essentially contracts between citizens and the government. HB 751 goes far beyond the power of the government to prohibit civil unions, and actually prohibits citizens from entering into private contractual agreements with each other. This is an important legal distinction, because the Constitution of the Commonwealth contains language that clearly prohibits the government from interfering with the ability of citizens to enter into contracts; this right was considered by our Founders to be fundamental to citizenship, “property” meaning first and foremost one’s own personhood.
Claims by Del. Marshall that this is not the intent of the law are facetious at best. The “contracts and other arrangements” that same sex couples enter into in order to protect our families, regarding property, medical directives and child custody, are exactly ones that are automatically “bestowed by marriage”. We already know of people who have inquired at hospitals where they have scheduled procedures, and have been told that, because of this new law, their medical powers of attorney are unenforceable and their partners cannot be considered next of kin. The same would apply to a couple who is only visiting our state; contracts entered into and valid in other states will be void in Virginia.
Even (and especially) the most conservative in our community should be able to see the difference between banning same sex marriage and abridging the most basic civil rights of gay Americans, and recognize that the latter sets a very ominous precedent in governmental authority. Regardless of one’s views on marriage, this poorly written, unconstitutional, and plainly vindictive law should outrage all Virginians.