Damn... Law on Gays Punitive Rather than Pragmatic The Virginian-Pilot © June 2, 2004 There is far more to condemn than embrace in Virginia’s new law banning partnership contracts for same-sex couples. Regardless of one’s position on gay marriage and civil unions, almost everyone ought to agree that a law that disadvantages children and prohibits businesses from offering health-care benefits goes too far. Forty-two states ban gay marriage. Virginia is among them. But no other state adds that same-sex contracts “purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage” are prohibited and that any such agreement procured in another state is null and void. This unnecessarily antagonistic language goes well beyond prohibiting gay marriage. It goes beyond rejecting “civil unions,” which do not even exist in Virginia law, but are banned nonetheless by the new statute. The exact meaning of Virginia’s new law will be up to the courts. But it’s reasonable to conclude, as many individuals do, that the statute jeopardizes child custody and guardianship agreements between same-sex partners. It also imperils health insurance policies currently provided to domestic partners by some private companies. There may be other ramifications involving wills, medical directives, insurance policies and home ownership agreements. “Civil union is a proxy for marriage. Domestic partnerships are a proxy for civil unions. You’ve got to cover all the bases or they’ll find a loophole,” said Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, author of the new law in explaining its reach. To Marshall, and to the solid majority of legislators who voted for his bill, stamping out gay and lesbian relationships trumps other consequences. But when lawmakers move from barring future marriages to banning existing contracts, they are doing more than squashing an emerging social movement; they also are interfering with existing lives. To several thousand children growing up in the 13,800 Virginia households run by same-sex couples, it makes a great deal of difference whether they have two custodial parents or one. If only one parent has custody, and that parent dies, those children could wind up in unfamiliar hands either temporarily or permanently. And what of companies that currently choose to recruit workers by offering health insurance packages to same-sex partners? What business is it of the state to tell them that they cannot? Already, Virginia stands alone in prohibiting insurers from writing health insurance policies covering anyone other than a spouse or dependent child. Some larger corporations such as Capital One and Northrop Grumman avoid the law by self-insuring their employees. Ironically, many of the lawmakers who supported the new legislation are the first to insist that government should stop interfering with business. They also decry the growing expense of providing health care to America’s uninsured. The new policy flouts both those concerns. No tolerant Virginian wants to send the message that gays and lesbians are unwelcome in this state. By undermining the private agreements that many have reached to protect themselves and their children, the state is doing just that. This hastily concocted and unnecessarily intrusive legislation should be reconsidered at the earliest opportunity.