Thursday, November 02, 2006
Marriage proposal affects all of us
Read Shanna's blog
Shanna Flowers is The Roanoke Times' metro columnist.
Proponents of Virginia's marriage amendment forcefully advocate that a "yes" vote supports traditional marriage -- and, by extension, is a vote against gay marriage.
But under Virginia law, gay marriage is banned already.
So in that regard, the proposed marriage amendment is a case of piling on.
It also could turn out to be a law of unintended consequences.
The proposal's backers aim to send a message to gays and lesbians, but where does it leave unmarried straight couples?
Furthermore, if the law does, indeed, have unforeseen results, could they disproportionately affect blacks, who remain unmarried in far greater percentages than whites?
"You have all these consequences you can't predict," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Commonwealth Coalition, which opposes the amendment. "The bottom line is, we really don't know."
The proposal states, in part, that the state and its jurisdictions "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate ... marriage ... or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."
Supporters of the proposed amendment dismiss any concerns about unintended consequences, with Attorney General Bob McDonnell saying that those claims have "no legal basis."
But McDonnell's assurance has done little to convince opponents.
They say the amendment's broad language raises a host of questions, such as whether custody arrangements would be unenforceable if an unmarried couple decided to split up.
Or whether an unmarried elderly woman who lives outside of marriage with an elderly man -- to preserve her pension and Social Security -- could make medical decisions on his behalf.
If opponents worry about unintended outcomes for "unmarried individuals," the law could heavily affect blacks, who according to The Washington Post, have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2003, 45.9 percent of black men and 41.3 percent of black women in America had never been married. That contrasted with 29.7 percent of white men and 19.6 percent for white women.
Opponents say their concerns can be eliminated if voters reject the measure.
"If we all vote no, nothing happens," Gastanaga said. "Gay marriage is still illegal."
Shanna Flowers' column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.