One of the issues that came up in the recent Democratic nomination for the 25th District Senate seat was the decriminalization of sodomy. The question posed was a simple one: Would candidates work to erase sodomy laws from the books?
Previous to the Democratic nomination, one of the candidates, Al Weed, answered:
"Since this appears to be in the category of laws against crimes that are not enforced, might it not be unnecessarily inflammatory to start out with this as a campaign issue? When my wife and I married (she is Asian) our union was illegal in Virginia under then existing miscegenation laws. We married as did thousand of other mixed-race couples. Eventually the uniqueness of this wore off and the laws have been repealed" (electronic mail, November 4, 2001) and went on to elaborate "Since my original answer I have learned that I was wrong in thinking these laws are not enforced. They are, and most often selectively against gay persons. Since that is the case, I would work to have them erased from the Virginia code" (electronic mail, November 9, 2001).
Another candidate, Nancy
O'Brien, answered: "These laws have not been enforced except
in certain situations against gays and thus should be abolished"
(electronic mail, November 8, 2001).
"The Virginia General Assembly reconvenes in less than three months. For The Family Foundation and millions of pro-family Virginians, it is within the halls and chambers of state government that the real battles for the future of our children will be fought.
Although, like you, our attention has been riveted by the life-changing events of September 11th, we are intensely focused on the legislative agenda for 2002.
We know that on January 7th, there will begin again, another well orchestrated effort to decriminalize sodomy.
Virginia is one of only a handful of states across the nation that views its sodomy laws as the only legal discriminator between traditional marriages and same-sex marriages. Witness the legislative debacle in Vermont, where domestic partnerships were granted equal legal status with traditional marriages shortly after the Vermont legislature eliminated the state's sodomy laws from the Vermont code.
Homosexual behavior is currently illegal in Virginia, and The Family Foundation will be fighting hard with just a few pro-family legislators to keep it that way." (Wayman R. Bishop, Executive Director, The Family Foundation, November 2001).
Now, the convention to choose a Democratic nominee for the 25th District seat and the mass meeting to choose a Republican nominee for the 25th District have come and gone.
Creigh Deeds won the Democratic nomination over Nancy O'Brien, Meredith Richards & Al Weed and Jane Maddux won the Republican nomination over Sharon Jones (a member of the Board of Directors of the Family Foundation ).
So I thought it might be a good time to look at recent attempts in the Virginia General Assembly to reduce or eliminate penalties for sodomy in the context of the upcoming special election.
A Recent History of Attempts to Decriminalize Sodomy
In the 2000 session of the General Assembly, Brian Moran introduced HB1107, whose House patrons were Brian J. Moran, James F. Almand, Viola O. Baskerville, Robert H. Brink, L. Karen Darner, Robert D. Hull, Kenneth R. Melvin, William P. Robinson, Jr., Marian Van Landingham and MitchVan Yahres along with Janet D. Howell from the Senate.
Subsequently, this bill was incorporated into HB718, whose House patrons were L. Karen Darner (chief patron), James F. Almand, Viola O. Baskerville, Robert H. Brink, and Robert D. Hull along with Leslie L. Byre from the Senate.
On February 13, 2000, an amendment was made in the nature of a substitute which was reported from the Courts of Justice Committee by a vote of 12-Y [Almand, Albo, Griffith, Rust, Harris, McQuigg, Jones J.C., Melvin, Watts, McEachin, Moran, Joannou]and 11-N [Howell, Cantor, McClure, McDonnell, Kilgore, Black, Nixon, Weatherholtz, Johnson, Armstrong, Deeds].
On February 15th, HB718 passed in the House, 50-Y [including local Democratic Delegate Mitch Van Yahres] to 49-N [including Democratic candidate for the 25th District Senate Creigh Deeds]
On February 23rd, the bill was passed by indefinitely in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by a vote of 9-Y [Stolle, Trumbo, Quayle, Norment, Williams, Reynolds, Forbes, Mims, Rerras] and 6-N [Saslaw, Marsh, Howell, Lucas, Edwards, Puller].
The breakdown of felonies and misdemeanors is in the state code: felonies are under 18.2-10 and misdemeanors are under 18.2-11. The intent of HB718 was to remove the felony penalty, which can lead to a loss of professional licenses or certifications, as well as voting rights, drivers license, etc.
As the legislation was fashioned, there were those who wanted the animal and human elements separated. This was done, and then it was decided that beasts should remain a felony.
According to Karen Darner,
"Each time this legislation has been proposed, I have tried to work with the subcommittee and full committee. What sometimes happens is each member has his/her quirk of language, so we get nowhere.
In 2000, so many folks really agreed with me that something should be done we were able to educate the entire House on the floor - and with great testimony in committee I summarized for them.
One person was handicapped and she was poignant in her statement that she commits a felony in order to show love, and that was the only way she could physically do so. Another was a young man who had been charged with the felony by an angry girlfriend, and the jury was so upset that he had a felony conviction, they fined him $25. But the felony was on his record.
One of the best things that happened in 2000 was timing. The Floor debate was on Valentine's Day - and I wished everyone a Happy Valentine's Day at the beginning of my statement. We all could laugh together at the irony - and then the summary of testimony from the day before in committee was given. People really had to listen and think about why they would ever oppose such decriminalization.
I feel so strongly that this legislation is on the books to be discriminatory, not to protect anyone. The entire general assembly could be prosecuted, and that may be what has to occur before the general public understands that we actully make it against the law for 'Virginia is for Lovers.' " (Karen Darner, November 18, 2001).
In the 2001 Virginia General Assembly, a virtual replica of HB718 was introduced by Robert H. Brink. This was HB2309, whose House patrons were Robert H. Brink (chief patron), James F. Almand, Viola O. Baskerville, L. Karen Darner, Robert D. Hull, Brian J. Moran, and Marian Van Landingham and whose Senate patrons were Janet D. Howell, Patricia S. Ticer and Mary Margaret Whipple.
On January 29, 2001 , HB2309 was passed by indefinately by the Committee on Militia and Police by a vote of 16-Y and 4-N.
What Does the Future Hold?
Given a Republican-dominated 2002 General Assembly, is there a future for legislation in Virginia that would decriminalize sodomy? Perhaps, says Karen Darner, with a Republican co-patron...
And, assuming such a bill ever made it to the Senate side of the aisle [in spite of the lobbying by The Family Foundation], how would the candidates for the 25th District Senate seat, Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds and Republican nominee Jane Maddux, vote? And why did Creigh Deeds vote against such legislation on the House side?
Ask them when you see them on the campaign trail.
And please send your thoughts about the 25th District Senate race
and about the future of legislation to decriminalize sodomy in Virginia
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