Virginia moved a step closer to amending its 230-year-old Bill of Rights to ban same-sex marriage on Wednesday when the state Senate voted 28 to 11 to follow the House of Delegates in approving the measure. A referendum on the matter is expected in November.
"The family is the foundation of our society, and it's been based on a union of a man and a woman since the inception of marriage," said Republican delegate John A. Cosgrove, according to The Washington Post. "A constitutional amendment ... will protect that."
Each chamber still has to pass each other's measure, but with nearly identical wording, the expectation is that the proposal will easily move forward and go to voters on November 7. Though changes to the state constitution are routine, the state's Bill of Rights was last amended in 1996 with a victim's rights bill. Prior to that, it hadn't been amended since 1970, when voters ratified a new version of the constitution, according to the Post. The Bill of Rights, written by George Mason, a founding father of Virginia and the United States, served as a model for other states and for the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The marriage amendment proposed by both houses would say, in part, "Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions."
Supporters argue that a traditional definition of marriage is so important that it belongs in Virginia's most revered document. "The only place in the constitution to put this is in the Bill of Rights," said Republican Senator Stephen D. Newman, according to The Washington Post. "There is currently no right in the United States, or certainly not in Virginia, for anything other than a marriage between one man and one woman." The state's law already defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and doesn't allow for civil unions.
Proponents say the amendment is needed in case courts try to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states. Opponents argue that it corrupts the original intent of Mason's writing by preventing a group of Virginians from having the same rights as their fellow citizens.
"I find it ironic, Mr. President, that this resolution will amend the Bill of Rights, that section of the constitution that holds sacrosanct the unalienable rights of all human beings," Democratic Senator Mamie Locke said during a floor speech.
Elsewhere, Maryland Republicans introduced a similar measure in the Senate on Wednesday and said they believe they have enough support to bring a vote on it despite resistance from the Democrat-controlled legislature, according to the Post. The move came after last week's ruling by a circuit court that declared the state's 33-year ban on same-sex marriage discriminatory.