The Virginia house of delegates and senate on Wednesday rejected a gubernatorial amendment to a bill banning civil unions and other same-sex partnerships, then passed the original measure by veto-proof margins. The measure, one of the most restrictive in the United States, comes at a time when other state legislatures are granting extensive legal rights to gay couples, short of recognizing civil unions or gay marriages.
Following fiery debate on the house floor that caused house speaker William J. Howell to rebuke Del. Robert Marshall, the house passed Marshall's bill by a vote of 69-30, reaching the two-thirds margin necessary to override a potential veto. The senate then passed the bill 27-13.
Gov. Mark R. Warner's amendment would have removed language from the bill prohibiting a "partnership contract or other arrangement" between homosexuals, which Democrats said could invite constitutional challenges.
But Marshall said the sole intention of the bill was to prevent recognition of domestic partnerships that "bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage.... Civil unions are a proxy for marriage, and domestic partnerships are a proxy for civil unions. This has nothing to do with abrogating the ability of anyone entering into a contract."
Del. Brian Moran repeatedly asked Marshall to define the privileges of marriage and what types of contracts would fall under the bill, to which Marshall retorted, "I am not accountable for the gentleman's lack of enlightenment or understanding."
Marshall also attacked a previous statement by Warner that the bill would take Virginia "far out of the mainstream in terms of public policy," in a way similar to the state's integration stance during the late 1950s, when some counties closed public schools rather than integrate. "Homosexuals were not brought to the United States in slave ships," said Marshall, who is white. "They were not denied the franchise. They did not have to go to separate water fountains. They were not segregated into schools."
Dyana Mason, head of gay advocacy group Equality Virginia, called Marshall's remarks "outrageous rhetoric.... We call on him to take a step back and actually talk to gay people about the struggles they have to go through on a daily basis just to protect their families."
Democrats argued that the bill is vague and could unintentionally place restrictions on a number of legal arrangements between people, including joint bank accounts, wills, medical directives, and powers of attorney. Sen. William Mims disagreed and said the bill targets "benefits that come from marriage and only from marriage. If I choose to enter into a joint bank account, I can do so with any member of this senate."