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
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
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."