Last edited: January 30, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage Proposal Voted Down

Alexandria Council to Ask Assembly for Variety of Protections for Gays

The Washington Post, December 15, 1996

By Tara Mack, Washington Post Staff Writer

The Alexandria City Council yesterday decided against urging the Virginia legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, voting instead to ask for a variety of other protections for gays and for the legalization of sodomy.

The action followed more than an hour of testimony at a public hearing on the same-sex marriage proposal, made by council member Lonnie C. Rich (D).

When it came time to vote, however, council member David G. Speck (D) offered a substitute motion, arguing that his was a more realistic request to send to the Virginia General Assembly. Even supporters of the marriage proposal viewed it as largely symbolic and didn’t expect the generally conservative legislature to seriously consider it.

Speck’s proposal didn’t cover the question of marriage but asked lawmakers to amend hate-crime statutes to cover crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, to prohibit by state law discrimination against gays in employment and housing, to allow employers to extend insurance coverage to gay couples and to repeal Virginia’s law against sodomy.

“We are not sending stuff down there [just] to send a message,” Speck said at the hearing. “We are sending stuff down there that we think we need and we want to have passed.” The council voted 4 to 3 to consider Speck’s motion instead of the marriage measure, then passed each of the four parts separately on votes of either 6 to 1 or 7 to 0.

But Virginia lawmakers said yesterday that they didn’t think Alexandria’s wish list stood any greater chance of passage than the earlier proposal to legalize same-sex marriage.

“The motion will be laughed out of the halls of Richmond,” said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). He predicted that any attempt to seek legal protections for homosexuals would cause a political backlash against them in Richmond.

“They might be looked upon as a group seeking special class citizenship, entitled to special rights,” he said. “Right now they enjoy the same rights as anyone else.”

Gov. George Allen (R) has not been receptive to strengthening rights for gays. In January, his administration reversed a rule allowing gay and other unmarried couples to get affordable-housing loans, a move he defended as an expression of support for the “traditional family.”

Alexandria’s same-sex marriage proposal drew more than 20 speakers to yesterday’s hearing, most of whom favored the measure. Some told stories of the frustrations of being in a monogamous gay relationship without the legal benefits of marriage. Opponents argued that legalizing gay marriage would undermine heterosexual unions.

If same-sex marriage were legalized, “is there any logic that would prevent the legalization of plural marriage or polygamy down the road?” asked the Rev. Christopher Murphy of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, who spoke against Rich’s proposal.

Christopher Redder, who attends the Transformation Christian Ministry in the District, also testified against the same-sex marriage proposal and called the substitute measure “disappointing, but not surprising,” given the makeup of the council. Six members are Democrats; one is Republican.

Other ministers spoke in favor of broadening rights for gays.

“It is not the place of the City of Alexandria or the State of Virginia . . . to declare for anyone else what is and is not acceptable between that individual and God,” said Carl Patton, who said he was a Baptist minister who had been in a gay relationship for 14 years. “If homosexuality is a sin . . . then leave that judgment to God where it belongs.”

Several who spoke in favor of the marriage proposal expressed satisfaction with the substitute request.

“It was realistic, and [council members] have to be realistic,” said Anne Briscoe, a lesbian and resident of Alexandria. “We all do.”

Rich said he decided to raise the marriage issue after following the debate in Congress over the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states not to recognize such marriages performed in other states. The measure was approved by Congress and was signed by President Clinton.

Rich expressed disappointment that his proposal didn’t pass but said that wasn’t the most important thing.

“Frankly, what’s important was not so much the vote today, but the discussion [of gay rights] in the broader community,” he said.

  • Staff writer Louie Estrada contributed to this report.

[Home] [News] [Virginia]