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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 24, 2006

Marriage bans advance in two states; two others nix

Richmond, Va.--Voters in Virginia and Idaho will be faced with anti-marriage amendments on the November ballots, but West Virginia and New Hampshire legislators have scuttled amendments in their states.

On February 20, the Virginia House of Delegates unanimously approved the proposed amendment barring same-sex marriages and the recognition of other relationships, like civil unions and domestic partnerships.

However, the ballot will include the full three-sentence text of the amendment.

The first two sentences are almost identical to Ohio�s marriage ban amendment, passed by voters in 2004, except that �state� is replaced with �commonwealth.�

However, the proposed Virginia amendment also has a third sentence that concerns not only gay civil rights advocates but also others who normally oppose same-sex unions.

The amendment, like Ohio�s, reads, �That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.�

The third sentence, one likely to trigger even more litigation than Ohio�s amendment, continues, �Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.�

�Our goal was basically to make sure the voters clearly knew what the amendment would mean and what it would do,� said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, which is campaigning against the measure.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine opposes the amendment. However, he cannot veto it now that it has passed through the legislature in two separate sessions.

Kaine is concerned about �unexpected consequences� of the language, including the possibility that it may negate other forms of contracts between two unmarried people, such as joint property ownership.

In Ohio, some trial judges have found that the amendment�s second sentence negated domestic violence protections in cases where the accused and victim are not married. Two appellate courts have said that it does not void the protections.

Another Ohio case seeks to void a child visitation agreement between two lesbians who are no longer a couple.

Idaho�s proposed amendment was given final legislative approval on February 15.

Themeasure would insert the sentence �A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state� into the state constitution.

State Sen. Edgar Malepeai, who voted against the amendment, compared it to anti-miscegenation laws that prevented intermarrying of races.

�The constitution doesn�t discriminate,� he told the Idaho State Journal. �People discriminate. At one time I couldn�t have married my wife, and if I remember correctly, at one point Mormons couldn�t vote.�

�If the Civil Rights Act has been placed before the people, would it have passed?� he asked. �You tell me.�

On the other side of the spectrum, West Virginia�s House of Delegates voted down an attempt to move a marriage ban amendment out of the Constitutional Revision Committee, where it is languishing. The committee has yet to meet this session.

The effort to move the amendment failed by a nearly 2-1 margin on the same day that Idaho�s amendment received its place on the November ballot.

�To imply that what�s already the law in West Virginia is not sufficient, to me is questionable,� said committee chairman Del. Joe Talbott.

In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee on February 15 also voted to kill an anti-marriage amendment on a vote of 14-7.

The Virginia and Idaho amendments will join ones in South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and most likely Wisconsin on the November ballot. Alabama will vote on one in June.

Voters have passed same-sex marriage ban amendments in every state where they have appeared on the ballot, a total of 19 states so far.

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