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Brian Moran Gambles on Same-Sex Union Issue

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sensing an opportunity to separate himself from his Democratic gubernatorial opponents, former state delegate Brian Moran last week began emphasizing a topic that has long made Virginia Democrats wary: gay rights.

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Earlier this month, Moran was alone among the three Democrats running for governor to pledge that he would work to repeal the constitutional amendment, passed in 2006, banning any attempt to equate same-sex relationships to marriage between a man and a woman.

Two days later, that stand earned him the endorsement of the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, which praised Moran's longtime support in a state where such statements have been considered politically risky.

Moran's decision to push out ahead of his opponents on the issue suggests he is counting on a shift in an electorate that in past years has backed avowed centrists. He is gambling that Virginia Democrats, testing their strength after winning the governor's mansion twice and helping to deliver the White House, will now embrace the candidate they see as their most progressive option in the June 9 primary.

"It's one of the reasons I'm a Democrat," he said in an interview. "I believe in inclusivity. I believe in equality. That's what motivates me. I'm passionate about that."

Moran's rivals, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and Terry McAuliffe, former national Democratic Party chairman, helped create the opening by taking a more cautious approach to the issue in a campaign that has not been marked by significant policy distinctions.

All three candidates oppose same-sex marriage, but they all opposed the 2006 constitutional amendment because they believed it restricted even contractual relationships between same-sex couples.

But only Moran has said he would work to repeal it.

McAuliffe says the state's cumbersome process for changing the constitution -- the General Assembly would have to reverse position and back repeal twice, followed by a referendum -- means a governor would be wasting precious time by seeking a repeal.

"What do the citizens of Virginia want their governor fighting on?" McAuliffe asked at the April 19 debate. "I want, as governor, to focus on the things that I can change."

Deeds, who represents rural Bath County, is working to square his opposition to the 2006 constitutional amendment with a series of votes in 2004 and 2005 he cast in favor of putting the matter on the ballot. He calls himself a "work in progress" on the issue, recalling a childhood spent learning a literal reading of the Bible in southwest Virginia.

He says he came to believe that the language of the amendment was discriminatory and said so publicly before the 2006 balloting. But he never argued against the idea during the legislative debate. He said he believed at the time that the amendment merely codified Virginia law banning same-sex marriage.

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