Feeling Unwelcome, Some Gays Vacate Virginia

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 7, 2006

Edel Quinones lived in Virginia for 10 years, but early this year, he sold his Arlington townhouse to move to the District.

"It felt like I wasn't welcome anymore," he said.

Quinones and his partner of three years are joining a migration of gay people out of Virginia in the face of recent legislative action they perceive as hostile.

Twenty states have amended their constitution to ban same-sex marriage since 2004. Virginia state legislators passed a law two years ago that prohibits "civil unions, partnership contracts or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." A proposed constitutional amendment, which will go to voters in November, excludes any "unmarried individuals" from "union, partnership or other legal status similar to marriage."

Many gay people in Virginia and some family-law attorneys say they worry that the state law and proposed amendment are more far-reaching than simple bans on gay marriage -- that the measures could threaten the legal viability of the contracts used by gay couples to share ownership of property and businesses.

The exact effects are unclear, and the 2004 law remains untested, but some gays say they fear the laws could affect their ability to own homes together; to draft powers of attorney, adoption papers or wills; or to arrange for hospital visitation or health surrogacy.

Married people get these rights automatically through long-established common law; gay people use legal documents to ensure they can leave their property at death to their partner or allow their partner, rather than the patient's birth family, to make end-of-life decisions for them. Some gay people worry that hostile family members could use the language in the laws to seize their possessions or take custody of their children if they could prove the couple had a relationship that illegally approximated a marriage.

Proponents say the measures simply reaffirm existing laws.

State Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is gay, circulated a Washington Post inquiry seeking people willing to be interviewed on the record about their decisions to move out of Virginia. Two dozen responded; 10 others said they were waiting for the November elections to decide.

Many have moved to the District, but no estimates are available. It is illegal in the District to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and real estate agents and developers say it would be improper to compile such numbers.

"Virginia is becoming not gay-friendly," said District-based real estate agent Jeff Lockard, who said he has many gay clients. "What we are seeing is that same-sex couples -- if they can afford it -- their preference is to be in the city. It's something I've seen more and more in the past year and a half."

Reston-based real estate agent Evan Johnson, owner of http://mygayagent.com , said that when he started in business seven years ago, his Virginia clients, most of whom are gay, all bought other homes in Virginia when they sold their homes, unless they were being transferred. But in the past year and a half, of 51 transactions involving gay clients who lived in Virginia, 26 moved out, most to the District or Maryland, he said.

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