Since the rhetoric around this issue tends to be dominated by emotional arguments, I think we should all take a deep breath and reflect on what is sitting before us today.
In the last 228 years, the Constitution has only been amended on 17 occasions to protect the rights of the American people and shape the role of government. The 13th Amendment in 1865 prohibited slavery, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and the 26th amendment allowed those 18 years and older to vote. The amendment process never has been, and never should be, used to single out a group of American citizens for disparate and unequal treatment under the law.
Our fellow Virginians, Jefferson, Mason, Madison and Monroe, envisioned amending our Constitution to guarantee liberties, not to limit them.
Our most important responsibility as members of this General Assembly is to give serious and thoughtful consideration to a matter such as the one before us today. Amending the Constitution is a serious action that should only be done with great care and deliberation, not done in an emotional overreaction to the hot-button and divisive social issues of the day.
We would all agree that we have made major mistakes and conducted grave injustices in this country, such as the forced relocation of Native Americans, to slavery and segregation, to the internment of Americans of Japanese decent. None of these policy decisions were deemed appropriate for Constitutional amendment. Thank goodness, or we all would have had to extend those struggles for years, if not decades, to right these terrible wrongs.
Marriage has traditionally been the purview of the states, and the Virginia legislature did pass its own defense of marriage law in 1997 on the heels of the national Defense of Marriage Act that was signed by President William Clinton. Both of these laws help ensure that Virginia will not be required to recognize relationships between gay and lesbian couples.
However, our founders long ago recognized the strength that comes from a federal system that allows each state a measure of autonomy in matters of local importance. To support a measure that would prohibit other states from applying their laws as they see fit is an inappropriate, and a certainly unwelcome, action for Virginia’s elected representatives. Many conservatives including George Will, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Congressman Bob Barr have stated their opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution as unnecessary and punitive.
Polling by ABC News reports only 38 percent of Americans favor a constitutional ban on marriage rights for gay men and lesbians, while 58 percent believe the matter should be left up to the states. Majorities of Americans are opposed to the amendment in all regions of the country as well, including the South.
Many feel that this measure is unnecessary, premature and even mean-spirited. They feel this does nothing to protect marriage or family. To vote yes is wrong and does not serve this commonwealth or nation. S
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