F.C. Council Uses Harsh Words to Denounce

Says It ‘Deplores Discrimination’ in State Constitution

 “The Falls Church City Council opposes all discrimination based on immutable characteristics, including sexual orientation, and deplores any proposal to write such discrimination into the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Using this and other strong language, the Falls Church City Council took a solid, unanimous stand against passage of the so-called Marshall-Newman Amendment, on this November’s ballot in Virginia as Question One.

The amendment, if passed, would not only ban gay marriage in Virginia (there are already laws against it), but would go on to ban all unmarried relationships, both same sex and opposite sex. In the words of the Council’s resolution, it would ban “legal recognition of civil unions, domestic partnerships and other arrangements between unmarried couples of any sexual orientation.”

Initiated by Mayor Robin Gardner, the Council’s resolution noted the amendment would also undermine enforcement of existing domestic violence laws, as a similar measure has in Ohio, by denying police and prosecutors the ability to recognize rights associated with any unmarried cohabiting couples.

The amendment would also adversely effect business partnerships, subjecting any such arrangements to a potential blizzard of litigation.

According to Mayor Gardner, the Council “recognized that the proposed Marshall Newsman Unmarried Couples Amendment will have a detrimental effect on the citizens of Falls Church. We felt we should let our citizens know that broad-sweeping amendment will not only affect gay couples, but all unmarried couples. This amendment will take away rights from all Virginia citizens.”

“Going into the polls in November, it is important that voters read the entire amendment and see that it will have a grave effect on the abilities of Virginians to make life decisions regarding any type of contract they may want to enter into with anyone other than their spouse.”

The second and third sentences of the amendment stipulate that the 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…(they) create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage.”

That ambiguous language, Mayor Gardner pointed out Monday night, led the prestigious law firm of Arnold and Porter to prepare a 70-page legal brief on potential “unintended legal consequences” from its wording that extend far beyond the narrow issue of gay marriage.

To that effect, the resolution noted that the board of directors of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce also voted unanimously in August to oppose the amendment because of its discriminatory nature, on the one hand, and its potentially detrimental impact on small business, on the other.

According to the Council’s resolution, “the language of the Marshall Newman Amendment is antithetical with Section 25-46 of the City Code, which prohibits any discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, age, disability, national origin, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation or marital status.”

Discussing their resolution Monday night, Council members commented on why it was appropriate for them to weigh in on a matter of state, and not local, policy. “This resolution is based on a consistency with our City Code and is therefore justified,” said Council member David Snyder, a Republican. “The amendment collides with the public policy of our city.”

Snyder pointed out that its passage would also make Falls Church and other Virginia jurisdictions “less competitive with the District of Columbia and Maryland, where no such laws exist, for finding quality employees,” and it also represents an “unfunded mandate” imposing burdens that will require the expenditure of local resources for enforcement without attendant compensation.

“Since the formation by George Mason of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May 1776, we’ve been moving beyond discrimination. But to place it in our Constitution now makes it difficult to hold onto those gain,” Snyder said.

Council member David Chavern said, “We are usually very careful when it comes to acting on things that do not directly pertain to the City, but this is a bad, mean-spirited amendment that will have an immediate effect on citizens in Falls Church.”

Council member Dan Maller chimed in, “I not only oppose this amendment, but I welcome the opportunity to oppose it publicly.” Council member Hal Lippman concurred. “This is very important for our citizens,” he said.

“One of the major roles as a City Council is to protect the rights of our citizens,” added Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry. “This is one of our main jobs. I am very proud we’re doing this as a Council.”

Mayor Gardner, just prior to the unanimous vote, concluded, “I am very proud that everyone in the Council is in agreement on this.”