Virginia Is for (Straight) Lovers
Post, May 9, 2004
With the passage of the Marriage Affirmation Act last
month, the General Assembly has called on Virginians to rally at the parapets
for another round of massive resistance to social progress. Like
segregationists of decades past, legislators have drawn a pink line in the
sand relegating gay Virginians to second-class citizenship. This isn’t just
a return to one of Virginia’s most sacred institutions—“separate but
equal”—this is 21st-century apartheid, Virginia style.
Despite last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision
invalidating sodomy laws, Virginia’s legislature refused to repeal its ban
on sodomy. Del. David Albo (R-Fairfax) suggested doing so would lead to an
unabated rash of sodomy in the streets. Albo’s cries echo the admonitions of
his predecessors, who warned against the integration of schools and
Although Virginia has been home to some of the most
horrific examples of gay-related assaults and murders, the Senate committee
considering legislation has refused to include hate-based crimes against gays.
Likewise, the General Assembly has prevented local governments and school
boards in Arlington and Fairfax from making it illegal to fire someone for
being gay or to harass a gay student. Perhaps our legislators should talk with
some of the students who have been beaten or spit on for being different
before they next consider this issue.
With the Marriage Affirmation Act, legislators enacted
far-reaching legislation that Virginia’s legal scholars call “recklessly
overbroad.” The name of the act itself is misleading. It does nothing to
affirm marriage. Gay marriage has been illegal in the commonwealth since 2000,
and civil unions have never been recognized in Virginia. Even so, the act goes
further than outlawing civil unions: It prohibits members of the same sex from
entering into any “arrangement” that “purport[s] to bestow the
privileges or obligations of marriage.”
It is precisely because Virginia does not recognize civil
unions that gay Virginians enter into these “arrangements.” They take the
form of wills, medical directives and custody agreements, just to name a few.
For gay Virginians, contracting for all of these rights was once a difficult
and costly process; now it is illegal and impossible.
Despite the painful lessons of the past, the General
Assembly has chosen to take the path of ignorance and put the commonwealth on
a course of backward thinking. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “laws and
institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that
becomes more developed [and] enlightened.” Yet Virginia has often led the
charge to ignore this advice from its most revered founding father.
Before we pull up the welcome mat for gay Virginians for
good, we should consider the costs and consequences of this discrimination.
Are we, as a commonwealth, ready to write another chapter in our history of
intolerance? Will we accept the simple truth that gays are deserving of
fundamental human rights or will we once again rush to the parapets to defend
the commonwealth against enlightenment?
is a lawyer in Richmond and is vice chair of Equality
Virginia, an organization devoted to seeking equality for gay and lesbian
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