Virginia Activists Try a New Approach
Gay-Related Bills are Narrowly Focused for 2001 Legislative
The Washington Blade,
January 26, 2001
Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) introduced legislation to help
Arlington County employees gain insurance benefits for their domestic
partners. By Bill Roundy
Each year, it seems, a flock of Gay-friendly bills wanders out onto the
tundra of the Virginia legislature only to be torn apart by conservative
wolves or lost in bureaucratic thickets. But facing a 2001 session that lasts
only 30 days, the Gay civil rights group Virginians for Justice hopes that an
array of slimmer, more narrowly targeted bills can slip past the obstacles of
the General Assembly.
"All the bills are streamlined this year," says Virginians for
Justice lobbyist David Scoven. "We went for minimal change."
Two of the bills are so narrowly crafted that they will apply to only one
county each. Senate Bill 1147 would have allowed Fairfax county to amend its
human rights code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation. Unfortunately for VJ, the Senate Committee on Local Government
defeated the bill on Jan. 23, when it was "passed by indefinitely" a
parliamentary move to postpone discussion on a bill, almost always until the
session is over. Another bill currently before that same committee, SB 1226,
introduced by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), would allow Arlington
county to offer insurance benefits to "one adult dependent" of
county employees, as a method of allowing domestic partners to gain insurance
The wolves of the Virginia legislature have made a perennial target of
attempts to repeal the states Crimes Against Nature law, which makes a felony
out of any act of oral or anal sex between any two people, male or female,
public or private. In practice, however, the law is used only against Gay
people, and legislators stated explicitly this year that the laws true purpose
is to discourage homosexuality.
Virginians for Justice had attempted to circumvent arguments from previous
years that the law was necessary to curb public sex and to protect children by
introducing a bill (HB 2632) that would have removed all penalties for oral or
anal sex between consenting adults, while retaining penalties for that
activity with those under age 18, and also making the penalty for public sex a
misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on the second.
Del. Dick Black (R-Loudoun) argued in a Jan. 19 committee hearing that
repealing the CAN statute would encourage homosexuality and "unravel the
moral fabric of the Commonwealth of Virginia," the Norfolk
"Black said that if this passes, were going to have half-naked men in
dresses marching in parades like theyve got in San Francisco," said
One controversy arose among Gay activists during an early strategy session
regarding this bill, because of its provision keeping the penalty for sex with
or among those under the age of 18. Washington, D.C., Gay activist Frank
Kameny had argued that because Virginias age of consent is 16, the bill should
also set the age at 16.
"Youve got a situation where two 17-year-olds could be considered
culpable," Scoven admitted, "but thats never going to come up. You
have to trust that the commonwealths attorney isnt going to prosecute two
Another sodomy-related bill is still alive, in the House Committee on
Military and Police, but it is not expected to pass. HB 2309 would reduce the
penalty for oral or anal sex between consenting adults from a felony to a
misdemeanor, but Virginians for Justice is no longer actively supporting this
bill, preferring to concentrate efforts on a full repeal of the law.
The House Courts of Justice Committee voted 13-9 to "pass by
indefinitely" the sodomy repeal bill, which would normally be the end of
the bill, but Virginians for Justice hopes that new information can revive it
before the end of the session. A recent poll commissioned by Virginians for
Justice may help persuade legislators that restoring the bill is a politically
safe move, says Scoven, and parliamentary rules allow a bill to be returned to
consideration if any one member who voted to pass it by asks for it to be
Final results from the poll were not yet available, Scoven said, but early
returns indicate that statewide support for repealing the states Crimes
Against Nature law is "overwhelming."
Some of the legislators have indicated privately that they would like to
vote in favor of the bill, but they fear a political backlash from
Another bill, introduced by Arlington's Sen. Whipple, which has
surprisingly good prospects this year, is a bill to prohibit employment
discrimination based on sexual orientation (SB 815). Virginians for Justice
decided not to expend resources pursuing housing and public accommodation
discrimination this year.
In private discussion, some conservative members of the Senate Courts of
Justice committee have said that they will support the employment bill if it
is amended to specify that it would not apply to religious institutions or
businesses that employ less than 15 people, and if a definition of
"sexual orientation" is included.
"Its insulting to have to say [in the definition] that sexual
orientation doesnt include pedophiles but its what they wanted, so its what we
did," said Scoven. "Were giving them everything they asked for, to
the letter, and well see if they keep their promise."
Two bills attempting to add "sexual orientation" to Virginias
hate crimes law have already been defeated, one in the House and one in the
Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
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