Affirming Inequality in Virginia
Sunday, July 25, 2004; Page B06
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) seems to claim that the new Marriage Affirmation Act goes no further in restricting the rights of gay individuals than did the Affirmation of Marriage Act passed in 1997 [letters, July 3]. If this is so, why would he introduce another bill that does the same thing?
Many legal experts believe the Marriage Affirmation Act could invalidate child custody agreements, medical directives and other contracts that gay couples must devise to protect their families. Some even think this law could be applied to same-sex siblings, fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters.
Marshall says the law is needed to "resist the agenda of activist homosexuals" and adds, "The danger is real." Let's look at his examples:
When the Salvation Army or any other organization contracts with a government agency, it must accept the accompanying conditions, as any business must. If it disagrees with the rules, it need not accept the money.
Like many others, Marshall has misunderstood the problem with Boy Scouts meeting in schools. Most school systems rent space in their buildings. They often provide the space free to nonprofits whose mission parallels and enhances that of the schools. After the BSA took a stand for discrimination against gay Scouts and leaders, many schools felt they could no longer endorse the group by providing free access.
Most Virginia schools provide little information about sex. If schools do choose to offer students a comprehensive sex education program, however, there is no reason to exclude gay students. Like straight teens, they need to know how to protect themselves from the consequences of adolescent sexual experience, and to prepare themselves for adulthood.
Marshall should also know that bisexuals do not claim that they can love and be committed to "both a male and a female"; they can, however, fall in love with a man or a woman. As for public sex, not many of us endorse it. What we oppose is a law written or applied in a discriminatory manner against one group.
This "activist" is a septuagenarian who simply wants to see my gay son, and others like him, treated with the same respect as my other three children. Not a very scary thought, is it?
Thank you for giving Del. Robert G. Marshall another chance to present his understanding of the new Virginia law he supports, the misleadingly named Marriage Affirmation Act.
Marshall seems unfamiliar with the language of his own bill. Yes, the 1997 Affirmation of Marriage Act declared same-sex marriages performed elsewhere to be void and unenforceable. But that law does not include the language in the amendment, the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act, which voids a ludicrously undefined category of "contracts and other arrangements" that "purport to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage."
Contrary to what Marshall implies, the Marriage Affirmation Act contains no language that limits this category to benefits that are exclusive to marriage. There are more than 1,000 benefits automatically granted by marriage. Is the right to designate the person of one's choice as a beneficiary or to have custody of one's child a "privilege or obligation of marriage" because those things are automatically bestowed by marriage, or is it simply a right guaranteed to all citizens? The law doesn't say. How much will it cost the commonwealth to defend this ambiguous law, as Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore has vowed to do? We don't know.
We're sorry that Marshall considers two people who go to the trouble and expense of making contracts to take care of each other and then defend them in court to be engaging in "counterfeit marriage."
Finally, in his attempt to smear our community with histrionics about "the agenda of homosexual activists," he refers to proposed changes to Virginia's "crimes against nature" statute. The problem with this legislation was not that it criminalized public sex, but rather that it didn't treat all public sex equally. Yes, legislation or practices that result in unequal treatment under the law on the basis of sexual orientation are anti-gay. Marshall proudly announced this as the intent of his own bill when he told the Washington Times that "it clearly targets homosexuals."
Harming our community may be his objective, but that doesn't make it morally defensible or constitutional.
The writers are, respectively, the founder of Equality Loudoun and the president of Equality Prince William.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company