Blogging the Amendment

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

Fatuous Spin

I was pleased to see the nearly uniform praise from progressive bloggers for George Allen’s gracious concession speech yesterday.  I’m sorry to say that others are less humble in victory.

Greg over at Black Velvet Bruce Li has posted his winners and losers list. Given his predilections it’s not surprising he focuses on the passage of the Marshall/Newman Amendment.  His comments are curious, though, and seem to flow more from selective memory than from facts.

Greg notes first that Bob Marshall is a winner, and I’ll grant him that.  His eponymous amendment passed, and a victory is a victory, after all.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that Delegate Marshall should look over the Occoquan.   Fairfax County decisively defeated the amendment.  Prince William is growing, and all those godless liberals are moving south – and north for that matter – say from Fredericksburg, which reversed the statewide percentage on the amendment.

Senator Newman should look to Lynchburg, where the margin of victory for his amendment was less than half the statewide margin.

Greg places “secular progressives” into the losers’ column.  I dispute his nomenclature.  The voters who opposed this amendment were “secular” in the sense that many, including prominent Republicans, believed that government should not intrude into family life.  The implied opposite of Greg’s position is that “sectarian” voters supported the amendment.  Notwithstanding the fact that 51% of Catholic voters opposed the amendment, I find it quite ironic that Greg champions increased government intrusion into the religious life and faith structures of Virginia families.  I doubt I’ll forget when other issues arise.

Worse, though, Greg goes on to say “the overwhelming margin for the Marriage Amendment should rock the secular progressive movement back on it’s heels for a while… .”  I am amazed at the breadth of Greg’s lack of insight.

In 2004, our best performance on a “marriage amendment” was in Oregon, where the amendment passed 57-43.  The supporters of the Marshall/Newman Amendment, including Marshall, Newman, Victoria Cobb, and I think Greg, all predicted a 70% victory.  Instead, this amendment passed 57-43, exactly the same result as in liberal Oregon.  One million Virginia voters said no – dramatically more than voted no last year in Texas, a state with nearly three times our population.  Finally, it’s also plain that the amendment actively hurt the re-election effort of George Allen.  Some might say that one should be careful what one wishes for.

Looked at another way, the 329,000 vote margin for the Marshall/Newman Amendment is 7.2% of Virginia registered voters.  I have no doubt – no doubt whatsoever – that this margin is ephemeral.  Greg, Victoria, Bob and Steve should take no comfort in their victory, and Greg should certainly not believe that progressive voters will be rocked back on our heels.

Instead they all should realize that we’ve taken to heart the comments made by Senator Allen this week.  A storm may trim the branches, but the trunk remains strong.  We who voted against the amendment have many things to discuss with our representatives.  The conversation begins today.


November 10, 2006 Posted by | unintended consequences | 5 Comments

Election 2006 is Over; Election 2007 Has Already Begun

Next fall, all of the members of the Virginia House and Senate will be up for election. 

There are a number of state legislators who stood with The Commonwealth Coalition from the beginning of the campaign and who volunteered to serve as members of our Council of Elected Leaders. 

Others voted NO during the legislative consideration of the proposed amendment and worked diligently during the campaign to persuade voters to say NO to discrimination speaking on behalf of The Coalition and on their own to thousands of voters.

Still others were yes voters during legislative consideration of the amendment but had the courage to stand up during the campaign and urge voters to reject Ballot Question #1. 

All of these folks will need and deserve your support in the 2007 contests and beyond:

Council of Elected Leaders

Senator John Edwards

Senator Janet Howell

Senator Mamie Locke

Senator Patsy Ticer

Senator Mary Margaret Whipple

Delegate Bob Brink

Delegate Adam Ebbin

Delegate Al Eisenberg

Delegate David Englin

Delegate Bob Hull

Delegate David Marsden

Delegate Donald McEachin (although he voted yes in the 2006 session, he joined the Advisory Council and the Council of Elected Leaders in spring 2006, saying he had made a mistake)

Delegate Brian Moran

Delegate Ken Plum

Delegate David Poisson

Delegate Jim Scott

Delegate Vivian Watts

Consistent NO Voters and Supporters:

Senator Benjamin Lambert

Senator Louise Lucas

Senator Henry Marsh

Senator Toddy Puller

Senator Dick Saslaw 

Delegate Kris Amundson

Delegate Mamye BaCote

Delegate David Bulova

Delegate Chuck Caputo

Delegate Jennifer McClellan

Delegate Harvey Morgan

Delegate Jim Shuler

Delegate Mark Sickles

Delegate David Toscano

Delegate Shannon Valentine

Delegate Jeion Ward

Yes Voters Who Changed to NO:

Senator Creigh Deeds

Delegate Ken Alexander 

Delegate Frank Hall

Delegate Dwight Jones

Delegate Steve Shannon

Delegate Katherine Waddell

Please join me in thanking these leaders for their willingness to Stand Up and Speak Out against Ballot Question #1 and for their support of our campaign!

November 9, 2006 Posted by | politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 3 Comments

Culpeper Star Exponent Says NO!

It’s a difficult decision says the Culpeper paper … but the answer the editorial board reached is NO to Ballot Question #1.  Here’s why: 

There’s plenty of conjecture and uncertainty to go around. On the surface it seems crystal clear, but this is far from a cut-and-dry issue. Therefore, taking a stand for or against the marriage amendment is a very difficult decision.

On one hand, we certainly back traditional marriage and understand the genuine intent of a nationwide cultural movement that seeks to prevent homosexual unions and polygamy.

On the other hand, we don’t know if changing the state constitution with this wording is necessary. Constitutions should be changed sparingly, and we believe the legal framework is in place to properly maintain the status quo in Virginia.

If specific challenges arise down the road, let’s cross that bridge when we need to. Until then, we ever so slightly lean toward a no vote.

The Star Exponent is right.  There is no “fire” or “emergency” here. 

Caution and common sense counsel, NO on Ballot Question #1.

November 5, 2006 Posted by | politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 5 Comments

Jerry Falwell’s Home Town Newspaper: Ballot Question #1 is “Overkill,” Virginia Should Be First to say NO!

The Lynchburg News and Advance editorialized against the proposed amendment to the constitution today saying the amendment is “overkill.” After recounting all the reasons why the amendment is unnecessary, the editorial concludes:

Because it goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriages, we should be the first state in the country to defeat a same-sex marriage amendment. Not because we don’t adhere to a strict moral code, but because amending the constitution just isn’t necessary.

What is necessary is parents sharing their moral values with their children, having open and honest discussions about how they feel and why.

What is necessary is families taking responsibilities – and the consequences, good or bad – for their lifestyles decisions.

The proper role of government is not that of parent – or big brother.

November 5, 2006 Posted by | politics of marriage, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Yes, Virginia, This is a Terrible Amendment

Dahlia Lithwick takes on Ballot Question #1 over on Slate today.   After stating the obvious .. Virginia already has laws taking away any relationship recognition from same sex couples, she adds this riff on the search for the unicorn, the mythological “activist judge”:

Why the terrific urgency to gild—or should I say, further tarnish—the state’s anti-gay-marriage lily? Its supporters advance a single argument: It’s an insurance policy against “activist judges” who might someday rise up and strike down the many existing state laws banning gay marriage. Last week, the state’s lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, announced that the “amendment is necessary to protect traditional marriage from possible judicial assault.” Judicial assault from whom? The hemp-wearing, patchouli-burning vegetarians who dominate the Virginia bench? State judges here are exceedingly conservative, having been selected by our exceedingly conservative legislature. A local Web site is carrying out an enthusiastic search for Virginia’s unhinged, liberal-activist judges. They’re proving tough to find.

After pointing out the irony that proponents are relying on these same state court judges to deflect the serious legal consequences forecast by Arnold and Porter in its 70 page tome on the topic, she goes on to conclude with this advice to Virginians:

If you want to protect traditional marriage, fine. You already live in a state that does so in multiple ways. But, before you vote “yes” on this marriage amendment, ask yourself if you’re so afraid of imaginary liberal-activist judges striking down all those laws someday that you want our custody, contracts, medical directives, and domestic-violence laws re-evaluated by the judiciary today. Don’t end your thinking on this issue by asking yourself whether you believe the institution of marriage should be sacred. Instead, ask yourself whether you believe so strongly in its sacredness that you’d turn Virginia into a vast constitutional Noah’s Ark—where only married people are welcome, and the state’s 130,000 unmarried couples are left out in the cold.

November 4, 2006 Posted by | activist judges, discrimination, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Dueling Lawyers … If They Can’t Agree … NO is the Common Sense Response!

The non-partisan Virginia Legal Review Committee now includes more than 200 lawyers who’ve lined up to say that they support the 70 page memo written by the law firm of Arnold and Porter that concludes that passage of Ballot Question #1 will have serious adverse consequences for Virginia:

This exceedingly broad and untested language is the most expansive such proposal ever to have been put before the voters of any state. The language goes well beyond existing Virginia law, which bans same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions but does not apply to opposite sex couples nor prohibit “recognition” of any “legal status” approximating any aspect of marriage or to which is assigned any marriage-like rights or benefits.


Approval of the Amendment could cause significant disruption to settled legal rights, duties and protections in the Commonwealth, allow those seeking to escape their legal obligations elsewhere to clog our courts, and insert the courts into the private affairs of Virginians. These effects go far beyond the claimed purpose of the Amendment: to reserve marriage for one man and one woman.

Included on the list are Governors Kaine and Holton, the First Lady of Virginia (a former judge), two former Attorneys General of Virginia, a former Republican candidate for Attorney General and Governor, the managing partner of one of the state’s major law firm and more.

And, here’s what the “father” of the 1971 Constitution had to say on the legal issue in C’ville, a Charlottesville Newsweekly:

“I’ve spent my life thinking about constitutions,” says A.E. Dick Howard. “I’ve thought about it a lot, I can at least say that.” The day Howard speaks to a reporter, he has just returned from casting his absentee ballot for the November 7 election. He has a lot to say about why he voted “no” on the marriage question.

“[The amendment is] grand sounding, but as you read it, you say, ‘What in the world does it really mean?’ You think you know what they’re talking about, but you’re not sure, in practice, where it goes,” he says. “It responds to a non-problem.”

Not many people know the Virginia Constitution like A.E. Dick Howard does. How could they? After all, Howard, a UVA law professor, was the executive director of the commission that rewrote the modern Constitution in 1971.

“This is a bad amendment,” says Howard, even for the reported majority of Virginians who believe that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman.

This guy isn’t some flaming liberal hell-bent on shoving gay rights down the throats of red-state America. “I don’t represent the gay rights community,” says Howard.

What he does represent is the wizened elder who has a broader view of the State Constitution—what it should do, and what it has no business doing. And the State Constitution has no business in the realm of marriage, he says.

An older, married gentleman, Howard, who is reticent about his personal politics, is a distinguished professor who has written volumes on Virginia’s Constitution as well as the Magna Carta. His resumé is impeccable, characteristic of the legal elite: Born and raised in Richmond, he got his undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond before going on to a Rhodes scholarship and then UVA law school. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. He has argued cases before the State and federal supreme courts. In addition to heading the committee that rewrote Virginia’s Constitution, he has served as a constitutional consultant to countries on nearly every continent: Brazil, the Philippines, Hun-gary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Albania, Malawi, South Africa. It’s a respectable record for a man of any political inclination.

“The people of Virginia are properly concerned with the status of marriage and I have no objection to their making that judgment through the statute book,” Howard says. “And if a majority of people of Virginia think that it ought to be defined as between a man and a woman, they’re entitled to that.” But there’s a huge difference between a statute book and a constitution, and everyone casting a ballot on this amendment should consider the difference.

On the other side of the legal debate is the 13 page “opinion” from AG Bob McDonnell, who has voted for this amendment as a delegate, raised money for va4marriage, accepted thousands in direct and indirect campaign contributions from members of the board of the Family Foundation, and campaigned for its passage. 

Who supports McDonnell’s  interpretation of the law?  Is there any non-partisan support for his view?

Today the Family Foundation announced that three former Republican Attorneys General (Gilmore, Earley, Cullen)  have said that they support McDonnell’s view. 

But, where is the rest of the legal community?  In late October, Republicans were trying to get lawyers to sign something saying that they supported the McDonnell opinion.  The deadline to respond was October 31st, then October 25th … inquiring minds want to know what happened to the list?  Perhaps they couldn’t get anyone to sign?  Or so few wanted to align themselves with the AG that it might be embarassing?

No matter what … the bottom line for the average voter is this …

Common sense says that, when the lawyers can’t agree what something means, it doesn’t belong in our constitution. 

The only thing that dueling lawyers get you is lots of litigation that will require state and local government to spend our tax dollars on lawyers and lawsuits instead of schools, roads, health care, crime … the much more important issues of the day!

November 4, 2006 Posted by | politics of marriage, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Coalition Radio Ads Up on the Web

Listen to The Commonwealth Coalition’s radio ads on our website at

November 3, 2006 Posted by | unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Richmond Free Press Says Vote NO

This week, the Richmond Free Press (a leading African-American owned newspaper) joined the Richmond Times Dispatch in advocating a NO vote on Ballot Question #1:

Ballot Question #1 proposes to ban same-sex union.  It is totally unnecessary. Already, state law defines marriage as being limited to one man and one woman.  It is a political red herring.  It was designed by President Bush’s far rigth supporters.  Their sinister goal:  To divert attention from substantive issues (including the Iraq war, poverty, affordable housing, inadequate health care and education) to turn out conservative voters for this critical mid-term election

Vote “No” on Ballot Question No. 1

Editorial, November 2-4, 2006

November 3, 2006 Posted by | politics of marriage, unintended consequences | 1 Comment

280 Clergy From Across the Commonwealth Oppose Ballot Question #1

At a press conference in Richmond yesterday, 280 clergy from around Virginia and across faith disciplines announced their opposition to Ballot Question #1. 

The clergy who signed the Statement represent diverse traditions and every corner of the state.

Among the signers were clergy from Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian, Jewish, Lutheran, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
Metropolitan Community, Mennonite, and Brethren traditions.

The press conference was sponsored by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and Jews for Justice. People of Faith for Equality in Virginia was formed in 2005 to fight discrimination and work for equality in local faith communities and across Virginia, particularly with regard to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Jews for Justice has been working to educate the faith community and Virginians generally about efforts such as Ballot Question #1 to undermine legal protections for vulnerable families and individuals in Virginia. Both organizations are members of The Commonwealth Coalition.

Speakers at the press conference included the following clergy:

Rev. Dr. Davis Yeuell, President, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia; former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias

Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Richmond

Rev. Kelly Sisson, Pastor, Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists),

Rev. Dr. David Ensign, Pastor Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Arlington

Yeuell, President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias, reading from the Clergy Statement, said that Ballot Question #1 violates the call to justice and fairness that is a moral imperative shared by our faith traditions.

The clergy emphasized that as clergy they believed that the proposed amendment will not protect any marriages. It will cause undue hardship and harm to the families of unmarried couples in Virginia.

As religious leader,” Yeuell said, “we affirm the dignity of all persons and value the welfare of all loving and committed families regardless of their legal status. …  There is no place in our faith communities or within our Commonwealth for an amendment that punishes — punishes — unmarried couples and their children.”

The Rev. Kelly Sisson, pastor of Glade Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists) in Blacksburg said, “The Religious Loud have trumpeted a hollow message of fear and threats that would have us believe our marriages and our faith are in jeopardy. … A marriage that is so fragile it needs this Marshall/Newman Amendment to offer that marriage security needs counseling, not a change in a 220-year-old document.”

Ballot Question #1 is bad law supported by bad theology,” stated The Rev. Dr. David Ensign, pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington. “To support the amendment in the name of a narrow and restricted understanding of marriage drawn from an impoverished reading of scripture is bad theology,” he continued

“Why are we being asked by our government to focus on this issue when there are so many other issues that require our attention?” asked The Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.  “We have so many issues other than this one that truly affect marriage.”

In the Clergy Statement and in their individual remarks, the clergy also noted their pastoral concern about Ballot Question #1’s effects on families in times of crisis who may be excluded from certain legal protections because they are not headed by a married couple.

They expressed concern that courts may be unable to adequately protect unmarried victims of domestic violence or to enforce child custody and visitation agreements among unmarried couples.

They also cited concern about challenges to advanced medical directives and the likelihood of extended legal battles over rights at times of acute need.

“I think of a couple who have lived in a monogamous committed relationship for more than three decades but as one partner faces his last hours in a hospital room, the other is held outside denied access while a court decides if the law applies to him.”  Rev. Kelly Sisson said.

November 3, 2006 Posted by | children, Marriage equality, religious doctrine, unintended consequences | Leave a comment

Watch and Learn III Mark Levine The Inside Scoop

If you’ve got an hour to spend, watch Mark Levine debate the amendment on his Inside Scoop show.  You’ll definitely learn something about the amendment and about debating! 

October 31, 2006 Posted by | discrimination, Marriage equality, politics of marriage, unintended consequences | Leave a comment