Kathleen Rhodes | Correspondent | Friday, March 18, 2005
"The law that is most egregious is the Marriage Affirmation Act (House Bill 751). It passed last year... and it bans pretty much any gay relationship and it also bans private contracts between couples," said Joe Crea, former staff writer for the Washington Blade. "But I suspect that it's not going to stand in a court of law."
Crea was one of the panelists who evaluated recent bills they consider to be detrimental to homosexuals during a panel discussion, entitled "Virginia's War on Homosexuals?" at the American University's Washington College of Law Thursday.
The bill states that "a civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited and that such an arrangement entered into in another state or jurisdiction is void in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby are void and unenforceable."
American University law professor Jane Dolkart, who specializes in gender and sexuality, said Virginia is the only state that has a law banning private partnership contracts for homosexuals. "I am quite certain that it is unconstitutional ... to ban contracts (between homosexuals)," she added.
"There are other states that have passed constitutional amendments that cover not just same-sex marriage but domestic partnerships as well. I admit that this legislation seems to go well beyond," said Dolkart. "It's so vague that it's hard to know how to interpret it."
The bill does not outright ban other arrangements or partnership agreements, the panelists admitted, but according to openly homosexual Virginia Delegate Adam Ebbin, "The big question in Virginia is how will it be appropriated if it is used to challenge" an existing legal contract.
Ebbin said "The scariest [piece of legislation] to me was the proposal that didn't pass, that would have outlawed gay adoption in Virginia." He was referring to House Bill 2921, which was passed in the House and was referred to a Senate Subcommittee.
Ebbin said the proposal "came before a subcommittee I was on, and it was drastically watered down to merely require information on whether someone is known to currently participate in voluntary homosexual activity, which sounds pretty frightening and intrusive."
Literally, the bill states, "No person under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual" and requires that the circuit court inquire as to whether the potential parents "engage in current voluntary homosexual activity."
"I thought that was a new level," Ebbin added.
The panelists also said there was a measure proposed that would allow school boards to ban "gay/straight alliances" at public schools.
According to the "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Encyclopedia" website, a gay/straight alliance" is "defined as a youth-led, school- or community-based group that provides a safe, welcoming, and affirming physical and emotional space for glbtq students, as well as those who are perceived" as such, "those who are questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, children from glbtq families, and heterosexual students who want to be allies of their glbtq peers."
Dolkart said that this sort of thing would be normally be protected under the Federal Equal Access Act, which allows most non-curriculum, special interest student groups to assemble in U.S. high schools.
"The bottom line is, if you [lend] your facilities to the public, you must allow all points of view to be represented. If you have extra-curricular activities in the school, then you have to allow gay/straight alliances," said Dolkart.
The courts in Virginia have also been unfavorable to homosexuals, Dolkart said. "Virginia pretty much will not grant custody to a lesbian parent," she said, adding that "they have gone so far as to deny custody to a lesbian parent in favor of her parent."
In Virginia, Dolkart added, "They still have a sodomy law on the books that is on its face unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court decision (in Lawrence vs. Texas)."
She asked "Why Virginia? There are other states that are at least, if not more conservative than Virginia that have done many bad things, but I don't think I have ever seen ... as much [anti-homosexual] legislation in one state as here."
"One thing is it's an election year in Virginia," Ebbin said, in an attempt to explain.
He indicated that because of the political season, legislators would try to appear more conservative to win votes, and that this would put homosexuals at a disadvantage.
"The challenge in most districts is to be conservative enough that if you're gonna have an election challenge, in many cases, you're concern is winning a Republican primary against conservatives," Ebbin said.
William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates (28th District), dismissed the idea that the Virginia Legislature was conducting a "war on homosexuals."
"I would disagree with that," Howell told the Cybercast News Service Thursday. "I think all the legislature is trying to do is to make the laws clear and follow the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the constituents in the Commonwealth."
Howell said the constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to one man and one woman was necessary. "I think the concern that they have in the legislature is that we have statutes already on the books," he claimed, " but they may be superceded by other states' laws ... so we feel it's important to have it in our constitution."
If the General Assembly approves the amendment during the 2006 legislative session, it will go before Virginia voters in the 2006 mid-term elections.
Howell had no opinion about the issue of "gay/straight alliances" being allowed in public schools, saying, "I have no idea what a gay/straight alliance is to begin with and so I couldn't tell you whether I think we should have them in schools or not."
Crea and Ebbin said a number of homosexual couples have left the state because they see Virginia law as unfriendly to homosexuals.
(Cybercast News Service Managing Editor David Thibault contributed to this article.)
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