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Canvassers in the town of Warrenton, Va., have been threatened with arrest should they continue going door-to-door urging people to vote against an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. Police officers have referenced a town ordinance meant to control door-to-door salespeople to justify the threats of arrest.
The ACLU of Virginia began sending out letters on Wednesday to police chiefs throughout the state to make them aware of the rights of political canvassers.
"Door-to-door canvassing for political and religious purposes is carved so deeply into the American landscape that one hardly needs to invoke the Constitution to justify it," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis in a statement. "Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Supreme Court has struck down every local ordinance that attempts to interfere with this basic First Amendment right. Homeowners have a right to ask canvassers to leave their property, but homeowners should not expect the police to remove canvassers from neighborhoods just because they find their presence irritating or they don't like the content of their message."
A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed that 40% of respondents said they would vote against the amendment while 54% support it.
Former U.S. senator John Edwards and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine have voiced their opposition to the amendment. A number of communities and business groups, mostly in northern Virginia, have stated their opposition to the amendment as well, primarily over its provisions that would potentially affect domestic-partner benefits.
Virginia's attorney general, Bob McDonnell, issued a legal opinion that the amendment would not ban private companies' domestic-partner benefits, negate agreements between partners, or affect nonmarried opposite-sex couples. "The passage of the Marriage Amendment will not affect current legal rights and obligations of unmarried persons involving contracts, wills, advance medical directives, shared equity agreements, employer accident and sickness insurance policies, or protection under domestic-violence laws," McDonnell wrote in a statement.
But some of the state's top legal minds, including Gov. Tim Kaine, disagree. "The potential for unintended consequences is a very serious flaw," Kaine said in a statement, reminding reporters that the state already has legislation limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Last month 100 noted Virginia attorneys, including two former attorneys general, issued a statement saying they believe the measure could be used to take away all of the rights of unmarried couples who have entered into contracts on such things as child custody and wills. They also stated that the amendment could be used to exclude unmarried couples from Virginia's domestic-violence laws.
In less than a month, voters in Virginia go to the polls to consider the amendment. (The Advocate)