Today is a black-letter day in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As Equality Virginia reports, earlier this afternoon the state legislature ratified a bill that would outlaw any “partnership contract or other arrangements that purport to provide the benefits of marriage,” with the likely chilling effect of stripping such otherwise legal contractual agreements between same-sex partners as powers of attorney, estate planning and wills, and custody decisions, among others. It goes further than any other law in the U.S. in stripping rights from gay Americans.
In an outrageous and short-sighted defeat for fairness and common-sense, the General Assembly today ratified the so-called “Marriage Affirmation Act,” one of the most discriminatory pieces of legislation to be considered by the General Assembly in decades.
By a vote of 69-30 in the House and 27-12 in the Senate, the General Assembly narrowly missed garnering a 1/3 vote in each house that would have killed the bill outright. Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Manassas), patron of the bill, led the charge with a barrage of anti-gay rhetoric during the floor debate.
“Today, Virginia codified second-class citizen status for the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian Virginians,” said Dyana Mason, Executive Director of Equality Virginia. “We are not only disappointed, but we are outraged that short-sighted Virginia extremists succeeded in condoning a return to an era of legalized discrimination.”
HB 751 not only prohibits the state from recognizing civil unions (which it already didn’t do), but strips private contractual rights between same-sex couples by outlawing any “partnership contract or other arrangements that purport to provide the benefits of marriage.”
Once this bill is enacted, it will likely deprive gay and lesbian Virginians of some of the few choices that they currently have to protect their families including:
*Advanced Medical Directives (also known as Power of Attorney)
*Custody decisions and arrangements
*Health Insurance coverage through those companies in Virginia currently able to offer benefits to unmarried partners. [Not many, since Virginia is also alone in the nation in prohibiting private companies from deciding whom they will insure, specifically prohibiting them from offering insurance to same-sex partners of their employees.]
*Estate planning and wills.
Because each of these “arrangements” grants rights contractually that are otherwise available only through marriage, they can be set aside or voided by the action of the General Assembly.
“Unfortunately, gay and lesbian Virginians can no longer call Virginia home,” said Joseph Price, Equality Virginia Board Chair. “Because of this hostile legislation, it is clear that many families will choose to move to Maryland or other states that embrace diversity and welcome difference.”
Last week, Governor Mark Warner made recommendations to remove the most egregious and unconstitutional language surrounding contract rights. Those amendments were sent back to the House for ratification where they were rejected by a vote of 65-35.
“Equality Virginia will now get to work to challenge this law in every appropriate forum,” said Mason. “In the courtroom, or in the General Assembly, we have no doubt that this law will quickly be found unconstitutional. We call on all fair-minded Virginians to send a strong message to their elected officials that this fight is far from over.”