Last edited: February 14, 2005

Gay-Baiting Enters Virginia Race

GOP Ads Taunt Democrat, Suggesting Marriage Support

Washington Blade, September 7, 2001

By Rhonda Smith

Numerous gay civil rights advocates this week denounced ongoing attempts in Virginia by the Republican Party to defeat the Democrat candidate for governor in part by distorting his stance on same-sex marriage.

David Lampo, spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia, said a recent radio advertisement that claimed Mark R. Warner, the Democratic candidate for governor, supports legalizing same-sex marriage in Virginia will make winning more difficult for Mark L. Earley, his Republican opponent.

"[Same-sex marriage] is not an issue. People don’t want to hear about it," Lampo said. "Our issues are continuing the car tax cut, reforming the schools, improving transportation, and the legacy of [incumbent] Gov. [James] Gilmore."

"Why they have to resort to these manufactured issues is perplexing to us," he added.

The two candidates are scheduled to take part in five debates between now and Nov. 6, the day of the election.

In another effort to link Warner with supporting same-sex marriages and civil unions, Earley has been saying on the campaign trail that, unlike his opponent, he supports "Virginia values, not Vermont values."

Quintin Kendall, Earley’s campaign manager, told the Associated Press Tuesday that "everything’s going to have an edge to it from now on."

The radio spot, which began airing last week on stations in rural regions of Virginia, appears to be aimed at politically conservative voters. In it Warner and his Democratic running mates seeking seats as lieutenant governor and attorney general, are described as "the most liberal ticket in Virginia history."

Richmond Mayor Timothy Kaine and A. Donald McEachin are the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.

Republican Jay K. Katzen and Libertarian Gary Reams are Kaine’s opponents. Republican Jerry W. Kilgore is running against McEachin for the attorney general’s seat.

Only Kaine, a civil rights lawyer, has spoken in favor of granting certain rights to gay couples in long-term relationships. He said he supports the right of gay people in long-term relationships to enjoy the "civil benefits" available to married couples.

"I have never said I supported gay civil unions, gay marriages," Kaine told the AP last Friday. "I do believe that people shouldn’t be kicked out of their jobs or discriminated against because of who they are."

Katzen, a state delegate in the General Assembly for Rappahannock County and parts of Fauquier and Warren counties since 1994, does not support same-sex marriages. He has described Kaine as "the extremist" on this as well as issues related to gun control and the death penalty.

Katzen also recently came under fire for comments in a Richmond weekly about gay people and HIV/AIDS.

On the radio ad, which is aimed primarily at Warner, a man and woman talk about the Democratic candidates’ views on the death penalty, abortion, gun control, welfare legislation, and same-sex marriage.

"One of [them] wants to legalize gay marriage in Virginia," the man says.

"Wait," the woman replies. "Gay marriage in Virginia?"

"Oh, you haven’t heard the worst of it," the man adds. "Mark Warner opposed welfare reform and he opposed the abolition of parole for violent felons."

Warner has said he opposes same-sex marriage as well as legislation to repeal Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. In 1997, a year after Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act, which grants states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages in other states, the Virginia General Assembly passed similar legislation prohibiting same-sex marriages.

Winnie Stachelberg, political director at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., said the anti-gay message the radio spot tries to convey is outdated.

"It is sad to see that the Republican candidates have distorted the records to try to score political points," she said. "It’s a strategy that will backfire. I don’t think people want to see this type of bigotry and discrimination in campaigns."

Kevin Ivers, a spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republicans’ national office, said: "By doing what they’re doing, these candidates are making it more difficult for themselves to win this election. When you run an inclusive campaign you win. When you don’t, you make it all the more difficult to win."

Tim McFeeley, political director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., echoed Stachelberg.

"The Republicans are misleading people by lying about Warner’s stance on these issues," he said, "and it’s incumbent on everyone—not just gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people—to make sure these so-called scare tactics don’t work."

The Republican Party and Earley’s camp, in particular, are using the same-gender marriage and other hot-button social issues to try to scare voters in Virginia’s rural regions and persuade them to support Earley, various political observers said.

A Washington Post poll in August indicated Warner has an 11-point lead over Earley among those most likely to vote and is ahead by 14 percentage points among registered voters. Warner’s success is most evident in southwest Virginia, a region grappling with layoffs and a sluggish economy.

Warner, an entrepreneur and millionaire who has never held public office, is winning supporters in part with a message about economic prosperity. He has been somewhat less outspoken about social issues, however, but enjoys broad support among black Virginians. Twelve years ago, Warner managed L. Douglas Wilder’s gubernatorial campaign. He also speaks Spanish and has used it while campaigning in Northern Virginia, where the state’s Latino population is growing.

Earley, a longtime member of the NAACP, has strong support among politically active Christian conservatives. He opposes adding gay men and lesbians to the list of groups protected by Virginia’s hate crimes law. He also supports retaining the state’s sodomy or "crimes against nature" law.

The Post reported that Earley’s supporters displayed a handwritten sign at a Democratic event Sunday that said, "Heterosexuals for Earley." Another sign contained a more offensive anti-gay reference. Campaign officials in Earley’s office disavowed the signs.

In addition to the radio advertisement, in recent weeks Republicans have mailed fliers to Virginia residents statewide that describe Warner, Kaine, and McEachin as having "extreme liberal views on issues ranging from higher taxes and gay marriages to ending the death penalty."

While Warner, a Presbyterian, has stated that he does not support same-sex marriage, he has supported other gay civil rights causes.

In July, Warner spoke at an annual summer barbecue sponsored by the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club. Adam Ebbin, a spokesperson for the group and an openly gay member of the Virginia State Central Democratic Committee, said 150 people attended the event and Warner was "enthusiastically received."

In early August, Warner issued a statement denouncing as "senseless acts of violence" the assault of several gay people outside a church in Roanoke.

"Random acts of violence are wrong," he said. "This attack was even more senseless because the individuals were singled out and victimized for who they are."

David Scoven, interim executive director of Virginians for Justice, a statewide gay civil rights group based in Richmond, said Warner recently received a score of 41 points from that organization for his responses to a candidate questionnaire about his stance on various gay civil rights issues.

Scoven said he received a low score in part because he answered only five of 13 questions on the survey and outlined his views in a letter instead of responding directly to the questions posed.

Earley did not respond to the Virginians for Justice survey. William B. Redpath, the Libertarian candidate for governor, did respond to the survey and scored 61 points.

About hate crimes, Warner said he supports legislation that includes adding "sexual orientation" language to current statutes. But Scoven said he did not mention adding related language to the current law to protect people based on "gender expression," which was mentioned in a survey question.

Scoven also said Warner did not answer questions on the survey about privacy issues, which included addressing whether the state’s sodomy law should be abolished. When asked about his stance on the sodomy law last month, Warner told the AP three times: "I don’t think that’s going to pass the legislature anytime soon."

Warner also did not answer a question on the survey about "family issues" that addressed gay-related adoption and custody concerns. He did, however, confirm in his letter that he does not support legislation to repeal Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Warner said he supports providing funding for HIV/AIDS services that involves public-private partnerships. In addition, he said he supports mandatory programs for "family life education" if they allow "local discretion" and let parents decide whether their child should participate. In addition, Warner said he supports legislation that prohibits employment discrimination.

"Mark Warner is generally friendly toward substantive gay issues like hate crimes and non-discrimination," Scoven said. "For most people, that’s good enough in an election.

"Will he ever change his stance about same-sex marriage? My prediction is: never," he added. "Virginia is just a very conservative state."

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Governmental Studies in Charlottesville, said Democrats have lost control of key statewide seats in Virginia in the past eight years. As a result, they appear less willing to challenge Democratic candidates like Warner when they express reluctance to fully support gay causes.

"The Democrats are so desperate to win this year that the various interest groups in the Democratic Party are giving the ticket a pass," he said. "They are letting them say whatever they have to say to win."

Ebbin, the openly gay member of the Virginia Central Democratic Committee, echoed Sabato.

"A lot of us are willing not to make a big deal about gay marriage when it’s not a front-burner issue in Virginia," he said. "The only ones who want to make it a front-burner issue are Jay Katzen, Mark Earley, and the rest of their henchmen.

"There’s an anti-gay marriage law in Virginia that does not have a chance to be repealed," he added. "I’d rather talk about employment non-discrimination, hate crimes, and things that have a real chance of some day advancing."

Officials in Warner’s campaign office said this week that they did not know why Warner opposes same-sex marriage.

Norfolk resident Patrick Heck, board chair for Virginians for Justice, said it is fair for Warner to answer questions about same-sex marriage "as his heart tells him to."

"I don’t think we’re going to elect a candidate who agrees with every goal Virginians for Justice has—ever," he said. "But the candidates who do agree with us on some issues should make their views known."

Of the eight candidates seeking statewide office as governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, only Warner and Redpath responded to the Virginians for Justice questionnaire, he said.

"The Democrats seem to be denying and scrambling to clarify [their positions on same-sex marriage] rather than speaking out strongly about their opinions on this issue. I think it’s a miscalculation on both sides," Heck added. "Virginians are fair-minded and if they were to make strong public statements against discrimination in all its forms, including based on sexual orientation, and say let’s move on to new issues, they could do that."

Scoven at Virginians for Justice criticized Katzen, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, for his recent comments about gay people and HIV/AIDS.

In an article published July 31 in Style Weekly in Richmond, Katzen said he opposed erasing a state law in Virginia that makes sodomy illegal because he believes it acts as a deterrent to dangerous behavior.

"AIDS is the product, sadly, in most cases of a choice that people have made," he said. "We recognize that homosexuality is a choice. It’s a lifestyle with public-health consequences."

Scoven said such comments purposefully misinform voters about HIV and AIDS.

"That is highly irresponsible," he said. "It’s morally reprehensible to scapegoat a group of people for political gain."

Katzen also said that abolishing the state’s sodomy law would be "an effort to begin the process of laying the framework for gay marriage."

Jim Ball, an AIDS activist and alternate board member from Virginia for the National Stonewall Democrats, said Katzen’s "lack of compassion and common sense" should disqualify him from holding public office.

"We’ve learned that this kind of garbage sells in parts of the state," he said. "But it’s not something the whole Republican Party is enamored with."

More recently, Katzen came under fire for saying Kaine, his Democratic opponent for lieutenant governor, would not support holding Boy Scouts of America meetings in schools because he is a civil rights lawyer who favors legal protection for gay people.

The Charlottesville Daily Progress reported that Katzen supports the right of the Boy Scouts to ban gay people from membership.

Kaine, a former Scout with two sons who participate in the organization, said he has no opinion about whether the Boy Scouts should be allowed to ban gays from leadership roles.

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