GOP Candidates Oppose Marriage Amendment

GOP Candidates Oppose Marriage Amendment

McMenamin and O’Donoghue say they will vote against this fall’s

The Republican candidates running in Arlington for County Board and U.S.

House of Representatives have both come out in opposition to the Virginia

constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions.

Mike McMenamin, who is challenging County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, and

Tom O’Donoghue, who is looking to upset entrenched Democratic Congressman Jim

Moran, said in interviews this week that they will buck the recommendation of

the state GOP and vote against the amendment this fall.

County Democratic and Republican leaders, as well as independent analysts, said

that staking out a more moderate position on a hot button social issue like the

marriage amendment is the only way for McMenamin and O’Donoghue to remain

competitive in heavily Democratic Arlington.

While both Republican candidates believe marriage should only be recognized

between a man and a woman, they said that a constitutional amendment is

unnecessary because state law already prohibits same-sex marriage.

"We shouldn’t be amending the state constitution in this type of manner,"

McMenamin said. "There is a law already on the books that takes care of this."

O’Donoghue said that he is opposing the amendment, which will be labeled

‘Question 1’ on the ballot in November, because of its overly restrictive

language. "Amending the state constitution is a last resort," O’Donoghue said.

"Once you’ve done it, it’s hard to tweak it."

PROPONENTS OF the amendment argue that traditional marriage between a man and a

woman is the backbone of society. Changing the Virginia Bill of Rights is the

only way to ensure that a judge does not in the future invalidate state laws

banning gay marriage, said Chris Freund, spokesman for the Family Foundation of

Virginia, an organization that is helping organize support for the amendment.

"There is always a risk of a judge overturning it on a whim," Freund said. The

marriage amendment "is the only way to protect that from happening."

Yet O’Donoghue and McMenamin said they fear the ambiguity in the amendment’s

language could have far reaching effects, including jeopardizing contractual

agreements between individuals of the same sex.

O’Donoghue worries that the amendment might prevent same-sex couples from

passing on their inheritance to their partners or could stop businesses from

offering benefits to unmarried couples.

Business leaders have expressed some concern about the unintended consequences

of the amendment, O’Donoghue said. "We don’t want to be chasing away companies

or make it seem that we have a hostile environment for them," he added.

Those who favor the marriage amendment dismiss the notion that it would affect

contracts or employee benefits. "There’s no validity to those arguments," Freund


Instead, such statements are simply a "diversionary tactic" to shift the

public’s focus away from the true intent of the measure, Freund added.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee has announced it will campaign heavily

against the amendment and will encourage supporters to vote "No" on the party’s

sample ballots.

The state Republican Party has adopted an official resolution supporting the

amendment. Repeated calls to Executive Director Shawn Smith were not returned.

The local Republican branch has decided not to take a stand on the measure.

"We’re focusing on supporting all three of our candidates," said Jeff Miller,

chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee. "This is what most of our

people want to spend their time and energy on."

IN SPEAKING OUT against the amendment, McMenamin and O’Donoghue may have found

one of the few issues where they are in total agreement with their Democratic

and Independent opponents.

Zimmerman, currently the County Board chairman, has been a fervent champion of

gay rights and has spoken out strongly against the amendment. "It’s wrong in

what it attempts to do, which is deny civil rights to a segment of the

population," he said in an interview.

Josh Ruebner, the Green Party candidate for County Board and also an opponent of

the amendment, applauded McMenamin "for having the courage to buck his party and

not fall into line with a lot of the anti-gay mongering."

In the race to represent the 8th Congressional district, both incumbent Democrat

Jim Moran and Independent candidate Jim Hursyz will be voting against the


"I’m glad my opponent has finally come around to the sensible position on this

issue," Moran wrote in an email to the Connection.

For McMenamin and O’Donoghue to have a chance in a Democratic stronghold like

Arlington, it was imperative for them to come out against the amendment,

analysts and leaders in both parties said.

Both candidates are trying to emulate a "Rudy Guiliani" model of being socially

progressive Republicans, said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at

George Mason University.

McMenamin admitted as much, saying that his stance on the marriage amendment is

indicative of the "independent-minded, Republican" themes he is running on.

"We are a different kind of camp" than right-wing Republicans, McMenamin said.

"One more in-tune with the realities of Arlington and where we want the county

to go."

County Republicans learned a major lesson from last year’s election, when

Democrat Tim Kaine garnered 74 percent of the county’s vote against conservative

Republican Jerry Kilgore, said James Turpin, former head of the Arlington

Democrats. That number was 7 percentage points higher than what both Mark Warner

and John Kerry received in 2001 and 2004, respectively.

"Running as a Republican in Arlington is a challenge, and you have to craft

yourself as a centrist," Turpin said, adding that few Democratic leaders will be

surprised by McMenamin’s and O’Donoghue’s stance.

There is also a possibility that the two candidates’ opposition to the amendment

could backfire by alienating some conservatives in the county. David Lampo, vice

president of the Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia — an organization of gay

and lesbian Republicans — believes that segments of the Republican base in

Arlington will be turned off and not vote for either McMenamin or O’Donoghue.

"There is a faction in Arlington that would rather see a socially tolerant

candidate lose than have positions they consider non-biblical," he said.

But other analysts see little potential for a backlash. The vast majority of

Arlington conservatives understand that this is a position both candidates have

to take if they want a shot at winning, said GMU professor Rozell.

Geoff Schwartzman, McMenamin’s campaign manager, said he does not expect his

candidates’ stance on the marriage amendment to divide Republican voters.

"The Republican party in Arlington is a big tent," he said. "They understand

that each candidate is an individual with his own convictions. In this case,

there happens to be a difference."