Foundation Wants Stricter Rules for Splits

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 5, 2007

RICHMOND, Jan. 4 -- After its victory in last year's fight over a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Virginia, the Family Foundation of Virginia announced Thursday that it will push to change the state's divorce laws to make it more difficult for parents to end their marriage.

The Family Foundation, which opposes abortion and promotes socially conservative values, said it will lobby the General Assembly this year to amend the state's long-standing no-fault divorce law, which essentially allows a husband or wife to terminate a marriage without cause.

The foundation is advocating "mutual consent divorce" for couples with children, which would require a husband and wife to agree to divorce before a marriage can be legally terminated, except in certain instances, such as abuse or cruelty. The proposed legislation would not affect childless couples.

"Right now, one spouse can unilaterally end [the marriage], and not only is their spouse unable to stop the divorce, their abandonment does not preclude them from having custody of their child," said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation. "When we send a message that one can up and leave their family and have no consequence, the Old Dominion is encouraging divorce."

Similar legislation has failed in the past. Cobb said the push for tougher standards is one of several initiatives her organization will advocate when the General Assembly convenes next week.

The foundation also wants libraries to be required to install Internet filters to block pornography and obscene material from children's view.

And, in what has become a yearly battle in Richmond, the group plans to push for laws to reduce the number of abortions in the state.

Specifically, Cobb said the group will advocate changes to the informed consent law so that abortion clinics would be required to perform an ultrasound before administering an abortion. Another proposal would require clinics to give women information about how anesthesia could be used on fetuses during late-term abortions.

Cobb said the proposals are designed to give women "the most advanced health-care information available."

But Ann O'Hanlon, executive director of Virginia's chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said her group would oppose the foundation's efforts.

"Getting a woman unbiased information is what we like to see, but when it is coming from people who oppose the legal option of abortion, it is not going to be unbiased information," O'Hanlon said.

Last year, the Family Foundation was the chief proponent of a Virginia constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Despite opposition from Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who argued that the amendment also threatened the rights of unmarried heterosexual couples, the Republican-controlled General Assembly put the amendment on last year's ballot. Voters approved it with 57 percent of the vote.

Cobb and her allies in the General Assembly said Thursday that the debate over the amendment banning same-sex marriage spurred this year's push for changes to the state's divorce laws.

"People were saying, 'It is not the homosexuals wrecking marriage, it's the heterosexuals,' so we are saying, 'Is there any truth to that?' " said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who has filed legislation to study the effects of no-consent divorce on state marriage rates.

"You can just walk away from someone right now. There is less security in the covenant of marriage than if you and I agree to open up a hamburger joint," Marshall said.

Cobb said she will work with Marshall and other legislators to explore more comprehensive legislation for requiring "mutual consent."

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