Gay activists urge boycott of Virginia
Gay activists in Richmond, Va., are urging a boycott of the state because of a new ban on civil unions and other partnership arrangements for same-sex couples. VirginiaIsforHaters.org urges people not to buy products or services from Virginia-based companies and suggests tourists visit other states. The name is a play on the state tourism motto, "Virginia is for lovers." Another group, Make Love Legal, is developing strategies for boycotting the 400th anniversary celebration of the founding of Jamestown in 2007. "This whole idea is: Don't spend your money in a place where people hurt you," said Diane Horvath, a Richmond attorney who is spearheading the Jamestown initiative.
The state's Affirmation of Marriage Act, which prohibits gay marriage, was amended this year to also ban civil unions and arrangements "purporting to bestow the privileges of marriage." Gays fear it may interfere with legal contracts, such as powers of attorney, medical directives, and wills. "This is a national issue," said Jay Porter of Seattle, who with his partner created the boycott Web site. "Someone came up with this really punitive legislation and got it through the state legislature, and in my mind, that could happen just about anywhere in the U.S."
The bill's sponsor, Republican delegate Robert Marshall, said he believes the threat of economic harm to Virginia is remote. "If they don't like the expression of the will of the people of Virginia, they don't have to come here," he said. "This was done by freely elected representatives." Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, tried to amend the bill to make it less restrictive, but lawmakers rebuffed his attempts by veto-proof margins. "Governor Warner has devoted considerable time and effort to promoting Virginia tourism, and this certainly will not help," said Warner spokesman Kevin Hall.
The new ban takes effect July 1, and gay rights group Equality Virginia plans a legal challenge. Atty. Gen. Jerry Kilgore, a Republican, has vowed to defend the measure's constitutionality. The boycott Web site also targets companies that have contributed to Marshall's campaign, including Altria Group Inc., parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris. Altria spokesman David Sylvia said his company contributes to both Democrats and Republicans and offers domestic-partner benefits to employees.
Another targeted company is clothing retailer J. Crew, which has a distribution and customer service center in the state and, according to the boycott organizers, many gay customers. A company representative declined to comment.