The Virginia senate approved a bill Wednesday prohibiting recognition of same-sex civil unions performed in other states, a move one senator said tells gays and lesbians to "essentially stay out of Virginia."
Republican delegate Robert Marshall's bill, which passed the senate by a veto-proof margin of 27-10, would add a section to the state's Affirmation of Marriage Act banning civil unions and other partnership contracts "purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage." Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County) said the legislation is needed to prevent court challenges from Virginians who travel to other states for civil unions and then try to get their legal rights recognized in Virginia.
Vermont is currently the only state where civil unions can legally be performed.
Sen. Richard Saslaw said Virginia would be heading in the wrong direction with the bill, warning that companies may avoid moving to a state where their employees do not feel welcome. "We're telling these people who happen to be gay, essentially, 'Stay out of Virginia,' " he said. " 'We want to make it as inhospitable as possible for you all to live in this state.' I don't know how else you can describe this bill. No more, no less. 'Get out.' "
Saslaw said the Maryland legislature killed a similar measure last week, and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he supports civil unions. "Once again, we'll be at the back end of history," he said, referring to Virginia's reluctance to accept interracial marriages in the 1960s.
The Virginia legislature also has passed a resolution this year urging Congress to propose amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Another measure that would have allowed employers to offer health insurance benefits to gay domestic partners died in a senate committee after barely passing the house of delegates. Marshall's bill now goes before Gov. Mark R. Warner, who has not taken a position on it. The legislation earlier passed the house, 79-18.