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SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: CALIFORNIA WEDDINGS: VIEW FROM VIRGINIA

Virginians don't like the concept

In the socially conservative state, some worry that California's move could spark a trend.

June 18, 2008|Stephen Braun | Times Staff Writer

FREDERICKSBURG, VA. — Donna Moore did not need to glance at the big-screen television in her Virginia living room to make up her mind about California's great leap forward to the legalization of gay marriages.

As one of the prime movers in exurban Spotsylvania County behind a 2006 state ballot amendment that outlawed gay marriages, Moore determined years ago that "same-sex marriage is something that goes against every principle I believe in. Everyone knows that California's a bellwether state, so of course I'm terribly concerned about whether this will spread."

For the moment, that possibility seems unlikely. This is Virginia, still staunchly socially conservative despite its growing flirtation in recent years with electing Democratic officeholders. Virginia has a new Democratic senator, Jim Webb, and governor, Tim Kaine, but its legislators passed a bill outlawing gay unions in 2004 -- a move strengthened by the 2006 constitutional ban.

The ballot amendment won with a 57% statewide majority, and in Spotsylvania County, Moore's hard work paid off with a 66% vote for the prohibition.

"Virginians feel they've settled this issue," said Victoria Cobb, president of Family Foundation of Virginia, a Richmond-based social conservative activist group that pressed for the ban.

Although the Family Foundation does not endorse in elections, Cobb predicted that "as we see more situations like this in California, conservative voters will recognize that decisions on Senate and presidential races have to be made by them. We feel it ups the ante."

Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group that opposed the 2006 same-sex-union ban, cautioned that despite Virginia's tradition of voting for socially conservative causes, its voters have been more independent-minded in recent elections. Even as voters recoiled against gay unions in 2006, Mason said, they also unseated GOP Sen. George Allen.

Despite their unease, Moore and other Virginia opponents of same-sex marriages said Tuesday that they hoped the celebratory images beamed from Los Angeles and San Francisco would galvanize Virginians into working for socially conservative candidates.

But despite a history of supporting Republican presidential candidates, even Moore admitted she was still "on the fence" about John McCain, who opposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that was proposed by social conservatives but defeated in both the House and the Senate in 2006.

On Tuesday morning, Moore and a visitor, Herb Lux, a local Republican committeeman, finally gave in to their curiosity. They stared warily as Fox News carried live feeds from West Hollywood, where blue and white balloons bobbed in the breeze and the first of the day's marriages included former "Star Trek" star George Takei who was getting married, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and West Hollywood council member John Heilman, who were officiants.

Moore and Lux had never heard of West Hollywood. From their startled stares, it appeared they would have preferred never to have heard of it. Only Takei was a familiar face -- but the notion that Mr. Sulu was now something of a gay activist just made matters worse.

"You watch this celebration and I honestly worry about indoctrination," Lux said.

"It's like the frog-in-the-water syndrome," Moore added in agreement. "You know, the frog doesn't realize the water around it is heating up until it's boiled. I worry that Americans will get used to these images and they'll throw up their hands and say, 'Who cares?' "

Several miles away, in Spotsylvania County's Central Park shopping mall, Virginians filing in and out of a local Wal-Mart voiced much the same sense of unease with California's legalization.

But unlike Moore and fellow activists, whose opposition to same-sex unions stems from their staunchly held conservative religious beliefs, the morning shoppers said they were simply put off by gay unions.

Sharon Bailey, 50, a cafeteria worker, shook her head as she spoke. "It's wrong, wrong, wrong. Especially when they bring children into it," she said. Bailey said she parts ways with social conservatives on many issues, and had been a Hillary Rodham Clinton backer in recent months, "but on this one, honestly, I think it's just gross."

Buck Fones, 59, a retired body shop worker about to visit his daughter inside the store, shrugged and sighed:

"It ain't right, that's all. I'm not big on religion but when you see 'em kissing, well, I just turn the tube off."

--

steve.braun@latimes.com

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