In 2006, Virginia voters approved an addition to the state's constitution intended to prohibit same-sex marriage and anything similar to it within the Commonwealth, including marriages that were legally contracted in other states or foreign countries.
That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.(Section 15 is entitled, "Qualities necessary to preservation of free government." If you're puzzled as to how a ban on gay marriage fits into that category, you're not alone.)
One of the big issues under consideration by the General Assembly in its 2014 session is ethics reform, sparked by last year's revelations about questionable and large gifts made to former Governor Bob McDonnell and his family by former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.
It happens that Delegate Bob Marshall -- the same Bob Marshall who sponsored the anti-marriage provision of the Virginia Constitution -- has introduced a bill that expands the categories of familial relationships that should be affected by ethics rules. Basically, if a person falls within one of these categories, that person is subject to limits on gifts based upon the individual's relationship to an officeholder.
In HB 15, Marshall proposes this new clause amending § 2.2-3117, § 30-111, of the Code of Virginia:
For purposes of reporting gifts pursuant to Item 5 and Schedule E, "immediate family" also includes (a) the officer's or employee's or his spouse's parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, and sister and (b) any person with whom the officer or employee has been habitually cohabiting in a relationship analogous to a marriage.The Marshall-Newman Amendment, now part of the Virginia Constitution, states clearly that the Commonwealth "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage."
|Rick Sincere (left) and Bob Marshall, April 2012|
Relationships "analogous to a marriage" have no standing under Virginia law, in large part because Bob Marshall wanted them to have no such standing.
Now Bob Marshall wants to give such relationships legal status for purpose of ethics legislation.
Does Marshall want to have it both ways? Either relationships "analogous to a marriage" exist under Virginia law, or they don't.
If individuals are subject to equal treatment under the law in one case -- that is, limiting their ability to accept gifts because they are in a relationship with a public servant -- shouldn't they also be treated equally in all cases?
If Delegate Marshall is trying to set a precedent that will upend his own amendment to the Constitution, we should welcome it. If he wants to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships among gay couples, he should say so clearly and persuade the General Assembly to change the laws restricting such relationships across the board.
Of course, it could be that Delegate Marshall is oblivious to how HB 15 contravenes Article I, Section 15-A of the Virginia Constitution, though I doubt it. He's far too intelligent and clever for that to be the case.
Here's a reminder of Marshall's stance on gay marriage, when he was running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2012, answering a question about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) along with George Allen, E.W. Jackson, and Jamie Radtke:
So here's the question: Has Bob Marshall had a change of heart? Is he now open to gay relationships being recognized under the law but too shy to say so?
What do you think? Leave comments below or tweet your thoughts to me at @rick_sincere.