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legislature to debate proposed same-sex marriage ban

legislature to debate proposed same-sex marriage ban

Gay rights advocates expect to argue Wednesday before two legislative committees in Richmond, Va., against what they say are biased wording changes to an official state explanation of a proposed constitutional same-sex marriage ban that goes before voters this fall. The house and senate privileges and elections committees will examine drafts of the explanations that would be available from local voter registrars across the state and that would appear on the state board of elections Web site. Voters this fall will decide on two proposed amendments to the state constitution: the same-sex marriage ban and an amendment about the incorporation of churches. After a proposed state constitutional amendment has passed the general assembly without change in two years separated by a house election, it's up to the state's voters to ratify or reject it. State law requires that at least 90 days before a ratification election, the SBE print and distribute the official explanations to registrars and publish them twice in ads purchased in Virginia daily newspapers of 50,000 circulation or more. The explanation consists of the ballot question, the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment, and a statement of no more than 500 words describing the amendment. The law requires it to be "in plain English" and "limited to a neutral explanation," including the effect of a yes or no vote. A group organizing opposition to the marriage amendment contends that state attorney general Bob McDonnell, a conservative Republican, will push for wording in the explanation that is not neutral. "The proponents of the...amendment clearly continue to try, in every way possible, to conceal from the voters the real impact and potential far-reaching consequences of the proposed amendment," Claire Guthrie Gastanaga wrote in an e-mail sent to reporters Tuesday evening. She is campaign manager for the Commonwealth Coalition, an umbrella group of gay rights and other groups trying to defeat the referendum. Gastanaga's assertion is based on an April 17 memo sent to members of the house and senate committees by the Division of Legislative Services, which drafts the explanation. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo. In it, a committee staffer wrote that only the DLS draft was attached to the memo. "Please note that this draft does not include any changes to be suggested by the Office of the Attorney General," the memo reads. "We are still working on the wording with the Attorney General's Office, and I will fax or e-mail another version as soon as possible." The attorney general's press secretary, J. Tucker Martin, said McDonnell could not be reached by phone Tuesday night, so the office could not comment on the claim or discuss what changes McDonnell had in mind. Nineteen states have amended their constitutions to outlaw same-sex marriage. Virginia and at least five other states could do so this fall. Supporters say it's necessary to clarify that Virginia need not recognize such marriages or civil unions performed in other states. Opponents say it would write discrimination against gays and lesbians into Virginia's Bill of Rights and is unnecessary because state law already forbids same-sex marriage. It also denies recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, says he supports limiting marriage to one man and one woman but is alarmed by a sentence in the amendment that prohibits two people of the same gender from entering any legal agreement that approximates the rights and privileges of marriage. Kaine, an attorney, contends it could imperil the right of individuals to enter into a wide range of personal contracts. Kaine has said he will vote against the amendment. (AP)

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