Another Yes Voter Turns to NO! Delegate Steve Shannon Advises Voters to “Reject” Ballot Question #1
A very thoughtful piece by Delegate Steve Shannon that appeared in the Connection Newspapers yesterday reviews the potential for far-reaching unintended consequences from passage of Ballot Question #1 and advises “voters should reject Ballot Question #1 in November.”
Shannon points out the irony that, as drafted, the proposed amendment is an invitation to judicial activism and undemocratic in its ultimate effect:
Since the language first appeared in a conference report — the last day of the 2005 legislative session — constitutional scholars and legal practitioners have struggled to discern a clear meaning of these two sentences. The difficulty is that many of the terms used are not previously defined in our laws with meaningful specificity. Ask 100 people to define the “effects” of marriage or the “significance” of marriage, and you will probably hear 100 different answers.
Confusion over comparable constitutional language can be seen in Ohio, where the courts are wrestling with the issue of whether unmarried domestic violence victims are still entitled to the protection of the state’s domestic violence laws. Ohio trial courts have weighed in with differing decisions, and the issue is now pending with the Ohio Supreme Court, which has yet to render a decision.
If enacted, the untested language in the last two sentences of Ballot Question #1 may lead to unintended public policies being made through judicial decisions. The amendment certainly will leave our citizens without a uniform understanding of rules in important areas such as estate planning and domestic violence protections. Many businesses will be hesitant when considering the types of permissible benefits available to employees.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, citizens will lose their right to petition the legislature to remedy any unintended consequences quickly, as is done perennially with so many of Virginia’s statutes.