Va. Senate easily passes marriage amendment

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Virginia's Senate easily passed a proposed constitutional marriage amendment Jan. 25, virtually assuring that voters there will have a say on the issue of "gay marriage" this November.

The Senate passed the amendment on a bipartisan vote of 28-11, with five Democrats joining 23 Republicans in supporting it. The amendment now goes back to the House of Delegates, which had passed the amendment 76-20 in early January. The Senate did not change the text of the amendment itself, although it did tweak a companion bill that deals with the ballot language and voting date.

Assuming the House once again passes it, Virginia would become the fifth state to put a marriage amendment on the ballot for 2006. Alabama is set to vote on an amendment in June, and South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee are scheduled to vote on amendments in November.

The amendment would be added to Virginia's Bill of Rights, which were written by George Mason and adopted in June 1776 -- days before America declared its independence. Virginia's Bill of Rights, then known as the Declaration of Rights, was the first bill of rights in the nation and served as a model for America's own Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791.

"The family is the foundation of our society, and it's been based on a union of a man and a woman since the inception of marriage," Del. John A. Cosgrove, a Republican, was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. "A constitutional amendment ... will protect that."

Virginia law requires constitutional amendments to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions. It passed both the House and Senate in 2005.

While the amendment bans "gay marriage," it also bans Vermont-style civil unions and California-style domestic partnerships. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, supports the amendment's ban on "gay marriage" but said Jan. 27 he fears the other part of the amendment would have unintended consequences by hindering the ability of unmarried couples to enter into legal contracts. Supporters of the amendment disagree with Kaine.

Kaine cannot veto the amendment itself, but he could veto the companion bill that deals with the ballot language and the date of the vote -- something that homosexual groups in Virginia are urging him to do. But Kaine's press secretary told The Post that he would not use his veto power. Even if he were to veto it, the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

Conservatives say the amendment is needed to prevent state courts from overturning Virginia's marriage laws. In the past three years, judges in five states -- California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington -- have overturned state laws and ordered "gay marriage" legalized. The good news for conservatives is that only one of those, Massachusetts, came at the state supreme court level; the others were appealed.

Nineteen states have adopted marriage amendments, and an amendment has never failed at the ballot.

The proposed amendment in Virginia, which would become Section 15A in the state Bill of Rights, states:

"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.

"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."


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