Local Commentary

Editorial: Historic Blow Vs. Discrimination

We heartily commend the Falls Church City Council for its unanimous vote Monday night to oppose, with strong language, the Marshall- Newman Amendment on the ballot in November. If the voters of the Commonwealth are effectively alerted to the wide-ranging negative consequences of this ill-conceived measure, and turn it down in November, then this City Council will be remembered for its courage at the cutting edge of this latest battle for social justice not only in Virginia, but nationwide.

Make no mistake, Mayor Robin Gardner, herself an attorney, is absolutely right when she says this amendment, if passed, would extend beyond same sex relationships to all non-married relationships, gay or straight, and to business partnerships as well.

That’s because the authors of the amendment deliberately made its language sufficiently vague as to elude a potential U.S. Supreme Court challenge that it unfairly singles out one particular class of citizens. They counted on voters overlooking this fact, and the State Attorney General, a Republican colleague of those in the state legislature who put this on the ballot, tried desperately to keep the actual language of the amendment off the November ballot. He wanted only the part pertaining to marriage as between a man and a woman only included on the ballot, and none of the vague references to other relationships that “approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage.”

After a pitched battle, the attorney general was overruled, and the entire wording of the measure will be included under Question One on the ballot. Organizers fighting for the defeat of the amendment are now urging voters to do little more than “read the entire amendment.”

Let’s also be clear about why this measure is on the Virginia ballot in the first place. In November 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Texas’ sodomy law, effectively recognizing and establishing full equal rights under the law for all persons regardless of sexual orientation. This decision was as seminal and important for gay and lesbian citizens as the Brown vs. Board of Education and other Supreme Court decisions were for racial minorities in the last century. But just as was done in those cases 50 years ago, individual states sought to forestall the implementation of the Supreme Court rulings by enacting contrary laws of their own. From the standpoint of core, bigoted discrimination, that’s what’s going on in this case.

A further incentive was in play for conservative Republicans in Virginia, the fact that the gay marriage issue could serve as a domestic boogeyman among their constituents to help them, and their religious counterparts, raise money and stay in office. If it is a question of gay marriage, unfortunately there are already laws against that in Virginia. But this is not about that, it’s about bigotry as a tool of political power.