Virginia Statewide Ballot Issues, 2006

Citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia will be voting on three state constitutional amendments on November 7. These amendments would each add, remove, or change text in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia. This year, they range from small, ‘routine’ modifications (Questions #2 and #3) to a major addition addressing an extremely controversial issue (Question #1).

Question #1: Definition of Marriage

This is perhaps the most controversial measure on any Virginia ballot this year: A proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution which would define marriage as being only the union between one man and one woman. Further, the measure would prohibit the Virginia government or any locality (city/county) within from “creat[ing] or recogniz[ing] a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.”

I sympathize with this effort to prevent creative reinterpretation of marriage by activist liberal judges. I sympathize with the ‘moral’ conservatives who worry about expanding the definition of marriage. That said, I also sympathize with the liberals who question the government’s moral authority to decide who can marry and who cannot. Short of separating civil and religious marriage (see A Compromise on Gay Marriage), I see no simple solution.

On this particular ballot question, my sympathies with the ‘moral’ conservatives are overridden by the broad language of the proposed amendment. Passing this ballot question would not only prohibit homosexual marriage, but would also constitutionally prohibit any kind of ‘civil union’. More disturbingly, the plain language of the measure—prohibiting anything that “intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage”—could easily be interpreted by activist conservative judges to outlaw some powers of attorney, living wills, and other established legal procedures often used by both homosexual and heterosexual couples.

In an effort to prevent abuse by activist liberal judges, this measure would open the door too wide for abuse by activist conservative ones. For that reason, I strongly endorse a NO vote. If the authors of this measure merely wanted to reinforce the prohibition of gay marriage in Virginia, they should have written it in a targeted manner to do that and only that. Instead, the authors crafted a broadly-worded amendment that runs a real risk of either trampling civil rights or being overturned by the Supreme Court.

  • Amendment Text and Explanation (State Board of Elections PDF).

Question #2: Incorporation of Churches

The Virgina Constitution currently includes the following text in Article IV, Section 14 (Powers of the General Assembly; limitations): “The General Assembly shall not grant a charter of incorporation to any church or religious denomination, but may secure the title to church property to an extent to be limited by law.”

The exclusion of religious organizations from incorporation when any other organization can incorporate in Virginia was challenged in the federal court system (Falwell v. Miller, 203 F. Supp.2d 624 (W.D.Va. 2002)) and found to be a violation of the federal constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

The proposed amendment before the voters would simply strike this unconstitutional language from the Virginia Constitution, since the clause is already void. I am always in favor of laws/constitutions saying what they mean and meaning what they say, and therefore endorse a YES vote.

  • Amendment Text and Explanation (State Board of Elections PDF).

Question #3: Property Tax Exemption

Currently, the Virginia Constitution allows for various property taxation rights and exemptions to be made by local (city/county) governments if the state legislature authorizes them by law. This proposed amendment would increase the authority of the state legislature to make those authorizations with regard to “real estate with new structures and improvements in conservation, redevelopment, or rehabilitation areas.”

There are already laws on the books which would give local governments some tax exemption authority with regard to these “conservation, redevelopment, or rehabilitation areas,” but they will not take affect until this amendment is passed.

Given that local governments have a great amount of authority with regard to property taxes—where much local revenue comes from—I have no problem granting them a little more. After all, who can object to increasing the number of potential property tax exemptions? This could be especially beneficial in areas like Fairfax where assessments are skyrocketing. I endorse a YES vote.

  • Amendment Text and Explanation (State Board of Elections PDF).

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.