Friday, August 26, 2005

The Virginia Amendment to Ban Unmarried Relationships II

Commenting on my earlier post on this subject, Richmond lawyer Marc Purintun has written a thoughtful analysis of the real impact of the proposed Virginia "marriage" amendment that should make every thinking Virginian pause and compel reasoned Virginia lawmakers, at a minimum, to make significant changes in the language of the proposed amendment before action is taken to put a proposed amendment on the ballot for consideration by the voters:

While the whole idea of writing marriage inequality into the Virginia Constitution is unacceptable to most gay and lesbian voters, what many of us find most objectionable and frightening is the overbroad language of the proposed constitutional amendment. The General Assembly has already codified its position that marriage is between a man and a woman three times. The proposed constitutional amendment is much more far reaching, however, preventing same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples from appealing to any level of government for recognition at any time. For example, if a same-sex couple were to seek to jointly adopt a child, or for the non-biological parent to adopt the child of the couple, under the proposed constitutional amendment a social service agency could not recognize that the two unrelated persons were a couple, the judge couple not recognize that the non-biological parent was in a coupled relationship with the biological parent. This proposed constitutional amendment goes well beyond the definition of marriage and casts in stone the ways in which all levels of government in the Commonwealth will respond to same-sex couples, and unmarried heterosexual couples in perpetuity.

Additional possible consequences of this amendment include preventing public schools from recognizing both actual parents of a child of a same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couple, disallowing city and county law makers from recognizing same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples who are joint property owners or business owners. It would prevent state universities and other government employers from recognizing the status of their employee's relationships for purposes as substantial as health care benefits and as meaningful as bereavement leave. State medical and mental hospitals would not be allowed to recognize same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples for purposes of visitation or decision making.

Finally, this amendment would make Virginia an unsafe zone for persons, heterosexual or homosexual, who have in other states (or countries) entered into same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships or civil union arrangements. Such persons may have not entered into the same forms of expensive and not totally effective legal contracts with their partners as same-sex couples do in Virginia because they are relying on the law of their locality to meet these needs. When planning business ventures, business trips or even vacations, such persons must consider the risk of having a Virginia hospital, state agency or court disregard their relationship. Many will see the proposed constitutional amendment as hostile to those relationships, the risks too high and will choose other venues.

Here are my questions for thinking Virginians to consider based on Marc's analysis:

Can Virginia market itself effectively to tourists (especially for the upcoming 2007 celebration) with this proposal standing in our way?

Can Virginia continue to say it is "open for business" if the effect of this proposal may be to set limits on private business decisions that will make Virginia based companies less competitive in a global marketplace?

Can Virginia continue to recruit the highest quality faculty to teach at our universities if we cannot offer competitive benefits or a welcoming environment for their families?

Can we really talk about opposing discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation (and, don't get me wrong, I applaud Jerry Falwell for doing so) while we advocate a constitutional amendment that will deny all unmarried couples and their families basic protections that assure financial and personal security?

I don't think so; do you?

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