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Battle Lines Drawn Over Constitutional Amendment

U.S. REP. TOM DAVIS, speaking to the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and Merrifield Business Association in F.C. Tuesday, said he’ll be voting in favor of the Marshall-Newman Amendment in November. Later, he told the News-Press his reason is because he’s “old fashioned.” (News-Press photo) Battle lines are being drawn more tightly every day now in the fight over the Marshall-Newman Amendment on the Virginia ballot in November. If passed, the controversial measure would modify the Virginia constitution to limit marriage rights to couples defined as a man and a woman, but would potentially restrict all contractual relations between unmarried couples and persons of the same sex.
 


Drafted with wording considered by many to be “overly broad,” the measure could result in the stalling of thousands of contracts by litigation until the courts finally resolve the significance of its vague wording.
    
That wording, along with general concerns for fairness, is why the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors voted unanimously in August to oppose the measure.
    
On the other side, an opinion was provided last week by the office of Virginia’s attorney general, Republican Bob McDonnell, saying the measure would not impact non-marriage contracts. But it has been dismissed by many on both sides of the issue as being tainted by partisanship and over 100 attorneys and legal scholars in Virginia collaborated on an issue paper warning of the larger legal consequences of the measure.
    
The Commonwealth Coalition, formed to defeat the measure, organized “100 House Parties in Virginia” to mobilize opposition, scheduled for tonight, including at least one in the City of Falls Church, hosted by News-Press owner-editor Nicholas F. Benton, that Mayor Robin Gardner committed to attending. State Del. Adam Ebbin is hosting one in Arlington.
    
On the other hand, the campaign of U.S. Senate GOP incumbent candidate George Allen is gearing up, according to sources, to “use the amendment as a silver bullet” against is Democratic challenger, James Webb, especially in more rural parts of the state.
    
Webb has stated his strong opposition to the amendment, including at a gathering organized by the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club in Arlington Sunday. He said that, to him, it is simply an issue of “fairness,” and that he intends to make that case strongly throughout the state.
    
U.S. Congressman Tom Davis, in remarks to a joint luncheon of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and Merrifield Business Association Tuesday, said emphatically he planned to vote for the amendment, even though he conceded he was “not sure” if its wording would impact non-marital contracts. When pressed, Davis said his support for the amendment was because he is “old fashioned.”
    
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said he would go out on the campaign trail in opposition to the amendment between now and the election, and the Falls Church City Council will vote on a resolution opposing it at its meeting this Monday. “If passed, it would mark the first time in the history of the Commonwealth that its Bill of Rights would be modified to deny, not add to, individual citizens’ rights,” Kaine remarked at a Democratic fundraiser in Sleepy Hollow earlier this month.
    
The proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the November ballot as Ballot Question Number 1. In its first paragraph, it poses the following: Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state: “That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.”
    
Although marriage is already defined in Virginia’s legal statutes as being between one man and one woman, the GOP majority in the Virginia legislature moved to reaffirm it by voting two consecutive years to put it as a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
    
But this amendment also has a second paragraph, and its repercussions could potentially impact all unmarried residents of Virginia.
    
“This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage,” reads paragraph two of the Marshall Newman Amendment, named for its authors Del. Bob Marshall and State Sen. Steve Newman.
    
“We tell people to read the second part and then decide,” said Sherry Zachry, president of the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area (LWVFA). “Our message is read the whole thing before you vote.”
    
On Sept. 11, Zachry sent an “Action Alert” to all LWVFA members (approximately 450). Last month, the League of Women Voters of Virginia board agreed to take a stand against the passage of the amendment and the Fairfax board followed suit. Members are encouraged to speak with friends, relatives and neighbors about the full consequences of the proposed amendment. Members can copy and distribute information, such as the Action Alert sent by Zachry.

More than 100 organizations across the state joined together this past spring to create the Commonwealth Coalition (www.votenova.org), formed with the purpose of defeating the amendment. Among the members are businesses, faith communities, groups representing both Democrats and Republicans, and individuals young, old, gay and straight. The Coalition has offices in Richmond, McLean and Norfolk. In addition to full-time staff there are already more than 2,500 volunteers registered who are actively engaged on a daily basis in this effort.

“The language of this amendment goes far beyond any language that’s been proposed in any other state,” said Claire Gastanaga, campaign manager for the Commonwealth Coalition. “It affects not just gay people, but any unmarried person in Virginia—gay or straight, young or old. Older couples that choose to live together without getting married and enter into agreements to try to organize their financial affairs will be adversely affected by this.”

More than 100 attorneys and legal scholars from around Virginia have joined the Virginia Legal Review Committee to prepare a 70-page paper reviewing the potential consequences of the amendment.

According to Gastanaga, research shows that a majority of voters in Northern Virginia are already strongly opposed to Marshall Newman. In other parts of the state, she said people’s opinions are changed once they read the full text and understand its far-reaching implications.

“What we discover is that when voters truly read the entire amendment and not just the first sentence they say, ‘I’m not for that,’” said Gastanaga. “They don’t want to intrude into private agreements. They don’t want to write discrimination into our constitution. When they read it and understand it that it is well beyond anything that simply defines marriage, they apply common sense.”