Va. Law Spurs Gays To Activism
"We had no idea we would get this kind of response," said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, the chief organizer of the events and the state's most active gay rights organization.
Mason said gay rights activists are developing strategies to repeal the law, which passed the Senate and House of Delegates by wide margins.
The activists say the law violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process and equal protection. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights organization, plan to work with activists to challenge the law in court.
Other smaller efforts include embarking on a statewide lobbying tour, talking with state lawmakers about gay rights issues and expanding local organizations in places not usually friendly to gay rights.
"This law is seen as an attack on private contracts . . . things that people have taken great care in crafting to help live their lives," said Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Virginia's first openly gay state lawmaker. He said many gay people see HB 751 as directly invading their lives, in a way that the commonwealth's previous ban on gay marriages and unions did not.
Marshall said he was skeptical of the recent organizational efforts.
"All of this is just an attempt to fundraise and call attention to the gay cause in Virginia," he said.
"Where were all these people in 1997 when the original bill was passed?" he asked, referring to the Affirmation of Marriage Act.
Henry Fradella, a law professor at the College of New Jersey who studies gay rights issues, saw the contrast in responses as important.
This new activism "is significant largely because in 1997 you really didn't see this kind of outcry in Virginia," he said. "But I think what you're seeing is this community -- which has largely been quiet for so long accepting that they lived in a conservative state -- saying: 'You know what? We're not going to take this anymore.' "
The Virginia law drew an outcry from gay rights organizations nationwide. Activists in Seattle designed a Web site called "Virginia Is for Haters," a dig at the state's tourism slogan "Virginia Is for Lovers." They called for a national tourist boycott against the commonwealth.
Supporters of the Virginia law say the concern expressed by the activists is out of line with the law's effect.
"All this talk about not being able to make hospital visitations is just a red herring," said Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun). "I really don't think they're doing a good job in trying to convince the majority of Virginians."
Other observers and legal experts said the state clearly had the right to place boundaries around marital benefits.
"I certainly think that state legislatures have the power to limit -- by whatever statutory language is necessary to make the point stick to reluctant courts -- marital benefits to married couples," said Gerard V. Bradley, a constitutional law professor at Notre Dame University.
Law scholars who think that the statute is unconstitutional acknowledge that it will be difficult to overturn.
Showing injury is problematic, said John Paul Jones, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond. "A lot of it will depend on how they approach the case and on what grounds they choose to base a constitutional claim."
In the meantime, members of the emboldened gay community say they will continue their efforts.
"This is just the beginning," said Rob Shore, Adler's partner. "A lot of us see this as an awakening."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company