Last edited: January 04, 2005

Warner, Kaine Attend Gay-Rights Reception

Group supports bill on domestic-partner benefits

Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 20, 2003
Box 85333, Richmond, VA 23293-0001
Fax: 804-775-8072 or 775-8090

By Tyler Whitley, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

They are not numerous enough to be a potent political bloc, but members of Virginia’s gay and lesbian community have gotten the attention of Virginia’s Democratic governor and lieutenant governor.

Gov. Mark R. Warner and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine showed up at a legislative reception held Thursday night by "Equality Virginia," the new name of an umbrella advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians.

Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore was invited but did not attend.

Warner’s visit was the first by a Virginia governor in the five years gay-rights activists have held a reception for legislators and elected leaders.

A few years ago, the lobbyists for the organization had trouble getting into the offices of legislators, said Pat Heck, of Norfolk, a vice president of Equality Virginia. Now the reception is much friendlier, although the organization still has trouble promoting its agenda, he said.

Last week, the Senate Courts of Justice committee defeated a bill that would have added sexual orientation to the hate-crimes law.

The House of Delegates passed a bill that would prevent school boards from restricting access to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The Boy Scouts prohibit avowed homosexuals from being Scout leaders, and some school boards across the country have threatened to ban Scouts from holding meetings in schools.

On the hate-crimes bill, Equality Virginia took comfort that one senator had switched his vote, narrowing the margin against the bill.

On Tuesday, Del. Robert F. McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee and a potential GOP candidate for attorney general, said gays and lesbians might not qualify for a judgeship in Virginia because they violate the state’s sodomy law.

Equality Virginia condemned McDonnell’s statement, saying it offered a "classic example of how Virginia’s sodomy law is used to discriminate against gays and lesbians."

If strictly interpreted, no one in the legislature might qualify, said Joseph Price, president of the organization.

The group in the past has sought to repeal the sodomy statute. It is not trying to do so this year because it is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the sodomy laws, Price said.

The main legislative focus this year is a bill that would allow private employers to offer domestic-partner benefits to Virginia employees, if the employer has a nationwide policy to do so. Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance limits such benefits to children and spouses. Both United Air Lines and Kroger Co. offer the benefits.

With the governor as the main attraction, Thursday’s event drew a crowd of almost 300 people and filled three rooms in the basement of the Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel. About 15 legislators, most from Northern Virginia, dropped by.

Price said Equality Virginia has about 1,000 members.

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