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Virginia senator pulls support for benefits bill

Virginia senator pulls support for benefits bill

A conservative Virginia senator pulled his support Thursday from a bill that would extend health benefits to gay domestic partners. Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) said he believes homosexuality is wrong and that he "didn't want to encourage this type of behavior in law, which is what this in effect would be doing.... I didn't fully appreciate the expansiveness of it," added Cuccinelli, who was one of the bill's co-patrons. The legislation, sponsored by Republican delegate James H. Dillard, seeks to allow private insurance companies in Virginia to offer health benefits to gay partners, unmarried heterosexual partners, siblings, parents, and other individuals if they live in the same home as the insured. Virginia law currently restricts group policy coverage to spouses and dependent children. Dillard said the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans asked him to sponsor the bill, which failed to move out of committee last year. He indicated that Cuccinelli was aware of the broad implications of the bill when he signed on and that he had not been informed as of Thursday afternoon that Cuccinelli was pulling his support. David Lampo, vice president of the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans, said Cuccinelli likely "came under fire" from the religious right. "His original patronage shocked us," Lampo said. On Cuccinelli's reversal, he added, "He pays homage to free market economics and limited government, but one really has to question his commitment to those core Republican principles." Lampo said lobbying by his group has garnered the support of several other Republican legislators, including delegates Robert Tata, Kenneth R. Plum, Terrie L. Suit, and Vincent F. Callahan. Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, the state's largest gay rights organization, said she also was disappointed by Cuccinelli's unexpected about-face. "Politics makes strange bedfellows," she said. "I assumed we had appealed to his fiscal conservative side and that he understood this is a business bill more than a gay rights bill." Dillard said gay partners are only a small fraction of those who would benefit from the legislation. Under current law, he said, he can't even add his brother to his insurance policy, even if his brother is dependent on him and living with him. Dillard said large companies that are self-insured can write their own rules, but small- and medium-size businesses are restricted by state law as to whom they can insure. "The problem is, in this fervor to get after these same-sex couples, they also prohibit you from having your mother have the insurance or your brother or whomever may be living with you, even an exchange student for a year," Dillard said. Lampo said the legislation makes good financial sense and noted that 32 Fortune 500 companies have offered these types of benefits to their employees for years. "It expands private health insurance at a time when the state critically needs to pare down its Medicaid spending," he said. But Cuccinelli said the bill flies in the face of "well-based" state laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. "Homosexuality is wrong," he said. "That's why we have laws set up this way in Virginia."

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