RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–In what conservatives are calling a position reversal, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Sept. 14 he would campaign against a proposed constitutional marriage amendment on the November ballot — bucking a trend that has seen the lieutenant governor, attorney general and members from both parties in the legislature support it.
A Democrat, Kaine said he opposes “gay marriage” but is concerned the amendment would have “unintended consequences” on unmarried couples and cause them to lose benefits they already have, The Washington Post reported. But the same day Kaine made his comments, Republican Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell issued a 13-page legal opinion stating the amendment would not infringe in any way on the legal benefits of unmarried couples.
“This is language I don’t feel comfortable putting into the constitution,” said Kaine, who in April had said he would vote against it but hadn’t said he would campaign against it. “I’m married. You ask what the benefits of marriage are? They are infinite…. Unmarried individuals are not entitled to any of those?”
McDonnell, though, disagreed with Kaine’s analysis.
“The intent of the amendment is clear,” McDonnell said in a statement. “The first sentence defines marriage as solely the union between one man and one woman. The second and third sentences collectively prevent attempts to establish same-sex marriage, or similar relationships that attempt to create marriage-like unions by any other name…. I can find no legal basis for the proposition that passage of the marriage amendment will limit or infringe upon the ordinary civil and legal rights of unmarried Virginians.”
The amendment passed the House of Delegates 76-20 and the Senate 28-11 and now must be approved by voters. Kaine said he would use “the power of his office” to oppose it. The governor’s opposition centers on a sentence in the amendment that says Virginia cannot “create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.” Supporters of the amendment say the sentence is designed to ban Vermont-style civil unions, which grant same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage without using the word “marriage.”
“We cannot know what another state will call marriage several years from now,” Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia, told Baptist Press. “Vermont called them civil unions. California called them domestic partnerships. This sentence is designed to capture the essence of marriage.”
Cobb said Kaine has changed his position on the amendment.
“When Gov. Kaine was a candidate, he filled out two surveys during the election season — both of which specifically asked him, does he support the marriage amendment as it is written?” she said. “He put ‘support’ on both. One was from Family Foundation Action and one was the Catholic Conference.”
Virginia is one of eight states voting on marriage amendments this fall; 20 states already have adopted them. But Virginia is not the first state where opponents have used a “benefits argument” similar to Kaine’s to urge a “no” vote. Activists in Ohio, for instance, tried to defeat that state’s 2004 amendment by arguing it also would impact unmarried couples’ benefits. But the amendment passed anyway with 62 percent of the vote. Ohio’s amendment is similar to Virginia’s in that it prohibits the creation or recognition of a “legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”
This year, opponents of proposed amendments in Arizona and Wisconsin are making arguments similar to Kaine’s. Both states will vote in November.
“This is a red herring argument used by opponents to distract voters from the real issue — which is, how are we going to define marriage?” Cobb said. “The benefits being discussed by opponents — such as wills, contracts and domestic violence laws — are benefits of being a citizen of Virginia [and] not benefits of marriage.
“These are individual rights that every individual has, and they will remain untouched by the marriage amendment.”
The proposed amendment states: “That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage