Virginia High Court Rejects Arlington's Domestic Partnership Policy

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde welcomed the April 21 Virginia Supreme Court decision which struck down Arlington County’s "domestic partnership" policy. Arlington County offered various benefits to County employees based on the fact that these employees were in a non-marital sexual relationships. Some taxpayers believed that the County did not have the authority to do this, so they sued. The first judge to hear the case ruled that the State of Virginia had not given Arlington County the power to create such an unprecedented policy. Arlington County appealed that decision directly to the Virginia Supreme Court. On the eve of arguments in the case, Bishop Loverde issued a series of public statements. The bishop was forthright in his comments about such a "domestic partnership" policy. By providing governmental recognition and subsidization to such relationships, the bishop said, Arlington County was acting counter to the best interests of families, children and society. "Those who would give to non-marital unions the privileges and status enjoyed by husbands and wives, he stated publicly, "contradict not only the good and well-being of society, but they also contradict the divine design ….In such a situation," the bishop warned, " the precious truth about marriage and the family becomes ever more obscured." The case, Arlington County v. White, was argued before the Virginia Supreme Court on Feb. 28. In its decision, the Supreme Court agreed unanimously that Arlington County did not have the authority to implement a "domestic partnership" policy. However, only three Justices were willing to address the core issue. The other four rested their decision on more neutral-sounding grounds. Four of the seven justices on the Court noted that the Virginia Attorney General had stated in 1997 that counties could not extend insurance benefits to "domestic partners" because to do so would conflict with state law defining "dependents" eligible for insurance benefits. These justices agreed and ruled that Arlington County violated state law by enacting its domestic partnership policy. Three of the justices agreed, but argued that the majority had missed the "fundamental issue." These justices said: "The County’s expanded definition of eligible dependents is nothing more than a disguised effort to confer health benefits upon persons who are involved in either common law marriages or ‘same-sex unions,’ which are not recognized in this Commonwealth and are violative of the public policy of this Commonwealth." So what does this add up to? The seven Justices did the right thing, and three of them were willing to say they did it for the right reason. Either way, we can only rejoice. Now, if Arlington County or any other jurisdiction in Virginia wants to enact such a policy, it will have to get the explicit authorization of the Virginia General Assembly. And as long as Bishop Loverde is in charge of the Arlington Diocese, there will be no support for such an authorization from the Roman Catholic Church in this region. As the bishop stated, "The health of persons in society, and of a society itself, is directly related to the health of the marital and familial community." The Supreme Court of Virginia has given all citizens of Virginia a victory for marriage. For this we rejoice.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2000