Blogging the Amendment

Offering a Forum to Discuss the Pros and Cons of the Marshall/Newman Amendment

Sunday Surfing I

Found some interesting stuff out there, some new some old:

Vivian Paige reprints her OpEd that appeared in the VA Pilot here.  Speaking from her vantage point as an African American lesbian, Vivian comments on the use of the Bible to justify writing discrimination into the Virginia constitution and concludes:  “Vote No on Ballot Question 1. We should not allow discrimination against anyone to be written into our Bill of Rights.”

Craig’s Musing, Why I Do Not Support the Marriage Amendment

If you haven’t done so, listen to Bob Marshall (sponsor, Marshall/Newman Amendment) Debate Evan Wolfson (Freedom to Marry) at UVA, October 5, Virginia Podcasting Network

Great article and comments about the amendment on Leesburg Today site. 

Survey USA poll shows uncertainty abounds, certain NOS up. 

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October 29, 2006 Posted by | activist judges, discrimination, domestic violence, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Full Statement of Delegate Katherine Waddell (I Richmond City) on Ballot Question #1; Read the Whole Thing and Vote NO

Statement of The Honorable Katherine Waddell, Member, House of Delegates  (I Richmond City) 

October 25, 2006 

As one of Virginia’s citizens who will vote on this issue on November 7, I am here today to announce how I will vote on this matter. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, as has been the case by law in Virginia since 1975 without contradiction.

But this amendment reaches much further than the marriage question. It not only outlaws the possibility of any contractual protections for domestic partners—gay or straight–but it also clouds a number of critically important issues.

Based on differing opinions among experienced attorneys, the possible effects of this amendment are at best unclear. This uncertainty in the law means that passage of this amendment will most assuredly lead to litigation.

Take for example the terrible circumstance of domestic abuse. As previously mentioned, in Ohio where a very similar amendment passed, appellate courts disagreed on whether unmarried persons can be prosecuted under or protected by domestic abuse laws. This now must be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Last summer, someone I know was stabbed to death in front of her children by their father. Even with the laws presently on the books in Virginia, we were unable to protect this young woman; we were unable to prevent this domestic brutality. We should be working to strengthen our laws to prevent domestic violence, not passing amendments that might weaken the laws already on the books.

If this amendment passes, contracts between opposite sex as well as same sex unmarried couples may not be enforced by the Virginia courts. Regardless of anyone’s views on marriage, why would we want to let government interfere with private relationships and contractual arrangements?

After reading and rereading Virginia’s Bill of Rights, I was struck by the sense and sensibilities of our founders—what they cherished and what they committed to in that document was the protection of our collective freedoms and our individual rights. This amendment would infringe upon the freedom of and deny some of the most basic and cherished rights of our fellow Virginians. This does not belong in our constitution.

The day after we vote on this overreaching amendment, regardless of the outcome, marriage in Virginia will still be between one man and one woman, but if we vote NO and defeat this amendment, we will have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of all Virginians.

For those reasons, on November 7, I am voting NO on amendment number 1. I urge you to please read the entire amendment carefully; because I believe that if you do, you will reach the same conclusion as I have and you too will vote NO.

October 25, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 4 Comments

Unmarried Domestic Violence Victims Threatened by Ballot Question #1; Waddell and Nachman Urge NO Vote

 (Richmond, Virginia) Domestic violence advocates, survivors and defense counsel agreed at a press conference today in Richmond that the language of Ballot Question #1 could well threaten enforcement of Virginia’s domestic violence laws against perpetrators in unmarried relationships and deny victims, their families and their employers of the protections currently offered.

 

Speaking at the press conference by telephone, Alexandria Ruden, a lawyer from the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Ohio, said similar language in Ohio’s constitution had thrown unmarried domestic violence victims into a legal limbo that has now gone on for 2 years since passage of Ohio’s amendment.

 

In describing the experience in Ohio, Ms. Ruden said:

 

“Unlike Ohio, Virginia voters have been alerted to the very serious adverse potential consequences of this proposed amendment well before the election. Our voters didn’t have adequate time to get fully informed before they voted. The consequence has been that police, prosecutors and victims have been in a state of perpetual confusion since the amendment passed. The litigation has snowballed from one case to 45-60 cases and, until the Supreme Court of Ohio resolves the issue, victims in 10 to 12 counties are without coverage because of court decisions holding the law unconstitutional. The situation has been complicated by the fact that those who dismissed concerns about the impact of the Ohio amendment on unmarried couples as “absurd” have now joined unmarried defendants appealing their convictions in arguing before the Ohio Supreme Court that the plain language of the amendment prohibits its application to unmarried couples. “

 

Ms. Ruden said that marriage amendment advocates changed their position on the issue because of concerns about the consequences and precedent of creating an exception to the constitutional language for domestic violence victims.

 

Stacy Ruble, Domestic Violence Advocacy Coordinator for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (VSDVAA), highlighted the concerns of programs working with the thousands of unmarried victims of domestic abuse in Virginia who seek services every year. “We understand that there are conflicting legal opinions about what the constitutional amendment means or how judges are likely to interpret it. What we know, however, is that, if this amendment passes, it is beyond question that there will be an extended period of legal uncertainty that will confuse police about the application of our pro-arrest laws to unmarried perpetrators, and cause magistrates and judges to question whether they have the authority to issue protective orders in such cases. This can be avoided completely if the amendment is defeated. We do not believe that there is a reason to take any risk that unmarried domestic violence victims will be denied these essential protections.”

 

Shani Cotton, a domestic abuse survivor and Sexual Assault Services Coordinator for VSDVAA, focused on the difficulty the public and victims have in understanding the law as it is. She pointed out that those affected by any future challenges to the validity of the statute will include the children in such relationships. Ms. Cotton said that the hotline she often answers receives 4,000 calls per month from victims, their families and friends seeking information about how to get services. “Passage of this amendment would affect our ability to provide consistent information statewide since the law could be unevenly applied for some period into the future,” she said with concern.

 

Cathy Maxfield Coleman, a domestic abuse survivor from York County and Domestic Violence Outreadh Coordinator for VSDVAA, described her experience as an unmarried victim back in 1989 before the current Virginia law was in place. Ms. Coleman said that back then police and the judicial system did not have the tools now in place to protect victims, including emergency protective orders, transportation for her and her children to a safe place, and the pro-arrest policy. She said “this amendment will set us back 20 years and will send a message that some victims don’t deserve to be protected. All Virginians have the right to be safe.”

 

In a communication to Ms. Ruble the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said their “office concurs in the concern that the passage of the amendment threatens protections that are currently offered to victims of domestic violence regardless of their marital status.”

 

John B. Russell, a former Assistant US Attorney and Senior Assistant Attorney General of Virginia who currently serves as the chair of the criminal law section of the Virginia Bar Association, said that defense attorneys in Virginia will have an “ethical obligation” to raise a constitutional challenge in cases involving unmarried perpetrators.

 

James Nachman, a criminal defense attorney practicing daily in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts, echoed Mr. Russell’s view that defense attorneys would be ethically obligated to raise a constitutional claim and said that the amendment would have “a significant negative effect on people cohabiting.” “It is unnecessary to wreak such havoc with this broad and far-reaching amendment, ” Nachman added, saying he would be voting no and urging voters to reject the amendment.

 

Delegate Katherine Waddell (I Richmond City) spoke of a friend who was stabbed to death in front of her children by their father: “Even with the laws presently on the books in Virginia, we were unable to protect this young woman; we were unable to prevent this domestic brutality. We should be working to strengthen our laws to prevent domestic violence, not passing amendments that might weaken the laws already on the books.” She said that she would be voting no on Ballot Question #1 and joined Mr. Nachman in urging alll Virginians to vote No on November 7th.

October 25, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence | 1 Comment

Pay Attention to the Details … Vote NO and Do No Harm

Please Pay Attention to the Details!

The proposed Marshall-Newman Amendment to Virginia’s Constitution

By Shani L. Cotton

Sexual Violence Services Coordinator

As a citizen of Virginia, an employee of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance (www.vsdvalliance.org), and most importantly, a survivor of domestic violence, I write to encourage voters to closely read the details of the proposed Marshall-Newman Amendment and think critically about its potential impact on Virginia’s citizens.

In Virginia, same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships are already illegal. It is also presently true in Virginia that critical legal protections are available to victims of domestic violence and currently, “victims” includes people who are married, unmarried with a child in common, living together, and also in some Virginia communities, even same-sex partners (all identified by Virginia law as “family and/or household members”).

If you read the amendment’s second paragraph, you will find an alarming launch pad for judicial confusion. In the proposed amendment, Virginia will no longer “create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage”. A huge leap it is not to see judicial interpretation resulting in unmarried victims’ legal status as a “family or household member” negated across Virginia’s courtrooms. Ultimately this may lead to victims of domestic violence becoming ineligible to access legal protections. And eventually it will lead to costly legal battles and appeals debating the constitutionality of charging someone for pummeling another with whom they have intimately lived and perhaps procreated, but not legally married.

The language is very similar to that of an amendment passed in Ohio 2 years ago. Ohio defense attorneys have argued that treating unmarried domestic violence victims the same as married victims gives them a legal status, and “approximates the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage” and is therefore, unconstitutional. Many of the attorneys using these arguments have won their cases on these grounds! It is more than intelligent deduction that forecasts defense attorneys in Virginia will use this argument as well.

In 2003, the Virginia Crime Commission studied protective orders issued in Virginia. There were approximately 43,000 issued that year. In addition, Virginia’s domestic violence programs report that 50-60% of the victims they serve are not married to their batterer. Applying that percentage to the number of protective orders issued, the amendment could likely result in an estimated 22,000 victims each year turned away and determined ineligible to even petition for a protective order. An important note to make here is that this number only represents adult victims. Now, take 22,000 a year and add just an average number of children per victim. This is atrocious and frightening!

Further, it could take at least 3 years for cases to begin reaching the Supreme Court of Virginia for final ruling. Meanwhile, at least 22,000 batterers are freed and their behavior affirmed—and the message to them very clear: In Virginia, it’s perfectly fine to physically attack the one you love, as long as you don’t marry them.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 66,000 Virginia victims PLUS their children are denied legal protection!

It’s truly very simple.

Voting yes will change things except one. Voting yes means people who identify as gay or lesbian still cannot marry just as they couldn’t before this amendment. But what it does mean is a systematic re-victimization of victims and their children who are already unprotected—even in their own homes—by refusing legal protection. Yes means Virginia is willing to literally risk tens of thousands of lives in order to redundantly reinforce one set of values. Yes means Virginia cares more about protecting some people’s values than it does about protecting it’s people—it’s women and children especially.

On the other hand, voting NO changes nothing. It still means people who are gay or lesbian can’t marry. It means that victims and their children still have access to legal protections. It can mean the difference between being safe and not. Unfortunately for some, it literally can mean the difference between life and death. Voting NO means Virginia is taking a stand and making it clear that it cares most about its people, and we will protect not only this generation, but beyond.

It’s our choice Virginia. I implore you, PLEASE VOTE NO!

October 25, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence, unintended consequences | 1 Comment

Deeds Announces He Will Be Voting NO on Ballot Question #1

Deeds Expresses Concern About Potential Consequences for Unmarried Domestic Violence Victims

Statement by The Honorable Creigh Deeds, Senate of Virginia

 

Recently, it has come to my attention that va4marriage and other supporters of Ballot Question #1 have been using my name routinely in speeches, letters and OpEds to bolster their arguments in favor of the so-called marriage amendment. Since my name is being used in this manner, I believe that it is important for the voters to understand what I do and don’t believe about the proposed amendment and to know how I am voting on November 7th.

 

I will be voting NO and here is why.

 

In the 2005 and 2006 General Assembly Sessions, I voted for the proposed constitutional amendment that is now Ballot Question #1, because I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and because I accepted at face value the arguments of proponents of the amendment that the language of the amendment was declarative of existing law. I also believed that issues of such magnitude ought to be determined by the voters.

 

Nothing has happened to change my belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and nothing could. Nor has anything happened that would cause me to question the appropriateness of giving voters the opportunity to vote on this question.

 

It is clear to me now, however, that the language goes far beyond existing law and threatens real harm to many Virginians and their families, among them the unmarried victims of domestic violence.

 

When this issue came before the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, I (and other members of the committee) questioned whether the Attorney General’s draft explanation of the amendment was either neutral or accurate in its assertion that unmarried domestic violence victims would not be left unprotected if this amendment passes. There was at the time, and continues to be to this day, pending litigation involving the identical language in the Ohio constitutional amendment, that challenged the Attorney General’s interpretation. The Ohio Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue, and the legal issue remains in doubt.

 

While our courts would not be bound by the Ohio ruling, the fact that victims of domestic violence in Ohio have been subjected to an extended period of legal uncertainty causes me great concern. The experience there causes me to fear that the proposed amendment to Virginia’s constitution will invite the very judicial activism its proponents argue it will prevent.

 

A NO vote on November 7th will not change in any way Virginia’s 30 year old law banning gay marriage, and I would not vote NO if it did.

 

A NO vote on November 7th, will, however, ensure that we are not taking the unnecessary risk of exposing even one victim of domestic violence further harm because of legal confusion about the application of our 10 year old mandatory arrest law or the availability of protective orders needed to make home and work safe.

 

That is why I will be voting NO on election day confident that neither traditional marriage nor a single domestic violence victim will be harmed by the outcome.

October 23, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence, Traditional marriage, unintended consequences | 4 Comments

Chair of Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Democratic Leader of House of Delegates and former Democratic Candidate for Attorney General Join Those Voting NO on November 7th

On Wednesday, October 18, 2006, Delegate Franklin P. Hall (Democratic Leader of the House of Delegates), Delegate Dwight C. Jones (Pastor of the First Baptist Church and Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus) and Delegate Donald A. McEachin announcedthat they will be voting NO on NOvember 7th. All had previously voted yes during legislative consideration of the proposed amendment.

Delegate Jones said: “It is clear to me that the amendment to our bill of rights proposed in Ballot Question #1 is not necessary

Delegate Hall added: “This amendment, with its vague and ambiguous language is much too broad. No one can say what the courts will do with this new wording or how they will rule in given cases; what is a sure thing, however, is that the outcome will be unpredictable and may involve many families and businesses in unnecessary lawsuits.”

Delegate McEachin said: “I came to the decision to oppose this amendment after much prayer and careful consideration. Like the blind man cured by Jesus, even after much prayer, the first time I looked at this amendment, I didn’t see its breadth or its basic meanness. Only after I was touched a second time, was I able to see this amendment in its true light. This amendment to the Bill of Rights is wrong for Virginia and wrong for our constitution.”

Hall, Jones and McEachin were joined at the press conference by three other members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus who have consistently opposed the proposed amendment, Senators Henry Marsh and Benjamin Lambert and Delegate Jennifer McClellan.

October 20, 2006 Posted by | civil unions, discrimination, domestic violence, economic impact, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 4 Comments

Vote NO Rally at GMU Draws Crowd of 650!

Laura Robertson, NOVA Field Organizer for The Comonwealth Coalition filed this report on the October 5th Rally at GMU that drew a crowd counted as numbering around 650: 

Thursday, Virginians came together at George Mason University in opposition to ballot question #1, an amendment to the Virginia Bill of Rights which would, among other things, deny legal rights to all unmarried couples.   The program inspired and motivated people who are working against the amendment, and began with an interfaith vigil with leaders like David Ensign, the pastor at Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Berner of Congregation Kol Ami, and Kharma Amos, the pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia. 

Roger Wilkins, a George Mason University Professor and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement discussed how discriminatory Ballot Question #1 is, and reminded all of those people working against this amendment that our efforts we were joined by the spirit of Martin Luther King and other leaders of his day.  

Paula Prettyman, the President of Equality Fairfax discussed how we must work together against this amendment, stating, “We can make history by being the first state to reject one of these mean-spirited initiatives…There is such broad opposition to the Virginia amendment because every unmarried couple, gay and straight, young and old, would be affected – but we also know that gay and lesbian families are the ones with a target on our back, and we are the ones who must lead this fight.”   

Also speaking about the broad consequences of this amendment were Connie Kirkland, the Sexual Assault Services Director at GMU, Jay Fisette of the Arlington County Board and Doug Koelemay, the managing director at Quorvis Communications and member of the Commonwealth Coalition’s advisory board. 

This rally was put together by “Vote No, GMU”, which is a group created to educate George Mason students and the surrounding community about the true meaning of the amendment for ALL unmarried Virginians, and to point out the discriminatory nature upon which the amendment is based. 

“We are finding consistently that when people read the full text of the amendment, they are not comfortable with adding it to our Bill of Rights,” said Erin Neff of Vote No, GMU, a student group that has performed voter education work in partnership with The Commonwealth Coalition.  “We have to get the message out to voters to read the whole thing, and we need to convince our supporters that we can and will win in November. This rally is a part of our efforts to do both of those things,” Neff added.

Update:  Pictures of the rally here.

October 6, 2006 Posted by | discrimination, domestic violence, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 1 Comment

Domestic Violence Victims Threatened by Passage Of Amendment

Stacy Ruble, Domestic Violence Coordinator for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, highlights reasons for concern in article published today:

…the threat of having domestic violence protections taken away from unmarried couples is a real one.

“Our concern is for all of those who will be hurt between when the amendment passes and when the Supreme Court makes a decision — that’s if they decide domestic violence laws are OK the way they are,” she said.

“If not, we will need to develop a long-range plan to protect domestic violence victims. In the short term, if it passes we will have to create a plan to address legal battles, educate advocates, legal aid attorneys and Commonwealth attorneys and look at how to serve victims,” she said.

Ruble said the procedure for responding to domestic violence complaints involves a police officer going to the victim’s home, filing a report, arresting the perpetrator and transporting the victim to a safe place, if needed. At that point the victim can get a protective order against his or her abuser, which indicates where the abuser can and cannot go in relation to the victim.

“If domestic violence laws can only cover married couples, the most the police can do is charge [the abuser] with simple assault and battery,” she said. “There is no protective order or transportation to a safe place. If the victim makes it to a shelter, they will stay longer because there is no protective order.”

Ruble said businesses and apartment complexes can file no trespassing charges against an abuser, but they are not as effective as a protective order. “You don’t have an automatic arrest if someone breaks a no trespassing law,” she said.

August 18, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

The Amendment in the Blogosphere

There are some very smart folks out there in the blogosphere. 

NoVATownhall has two long and well argued threads with good commentary (pro and con) about the Marshall/Newman amendment here and here.

I particularly enjoyed being reminded of this quote from Alexis de Tocqueville:

 In Alexis de Tocqeville’s Democracy in America in Chapter 16: Causes Which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States he writes: “I am aware that a secret tendency to diminish the judicial power exists in the United States….by thus lessening the independence of the judiciary they have attacked not only the judicial power, but the democratic republic itself.”
[p.s.,If you can find this in the long thread, I’ll know that you really read all of the comments.]

Equality Loudoun, one of The Coalition’s partner organizations, continues some of the discussion here.

Keep up the good work!

June 27, 2006 Posted by | activist judges, children, domestic violence, limited government, politics of marriage, Traditional marriage | 9 Comments

Women’s Shelter Concerned about the Amendment

The Loudoun County version of the Times Community newspaper had this report on June 22nd about a women's shelter's concern over the impact of the Marshall/Newman amendment on domestic violence victims.

Here's a story the shelter (SAFE) used to illustrate why it's not OKAY just to have assault laws cover domestic assaults involving unmarried couples:

She escaped to the Sheriff's department, where officers referred her to SAFE – Services to Abused Families. By then she was in bad shape.

"There wasn't an inch of her body that wasn't bruised," said SAFE justice service advocate April Baumgardner.

Workers quickly took the victim to the hospital and filed for an EPO – Emergency Protective Order. The police in turn filed an All Points Bulletin on the boyfriend.

Because of a proposed state constitutional amendment, that scenario could change. There would be no emergency protection. Nor would there be an APB for the boyfriend. The incident would not be treated anymore seriously than a parking lot scuffle.

A proposed marriage amendment, which goes before voters on Nov. 7th, would ban same-sex marriage and partnerships such as civil unions that resemble marriage.

SAFE worries the language of the amendment could affect how it responds to domestic violence cases with unmarried couples.

"We wouldn't have been able to get the EPO," Ms. Baumgarder said. Too, the boyfriend would be charged with a misdemeanor instead of the current felony.

One other thing…. without the protective order, there's no way to keep domestic violence perpertrators from bringing the fight into the workplace … and the #1 cause of death of women in the workplace?  Murder.

June 24, 2006 Posted by | domestic violence, GLBT couples, straight couples | Leave a comment