Friday, October 27, 2006

Virginia Ballot Issue #1

An email sent by the Provost of George Mason to all faculty and staff:

On behalf of the faculty, staff and administration of George Mason University, we are writing to express our concerns about the potential impact of the proposed Amendment, “Ballot Issue #1.” It is unclear what the specific consequences of this amendment will be upon the operations of our own state institution. The amendment would prohibit the courts from “recognizing” or giving “legal effect” to arrangements that provide to unmarried people rights, obligations and protections similar to those that are available through marriage.

The economic wellbeing of Virginia and all of its public agencies and institutions depends upon attracting and retaining talented workers and dynamic new enterprises, and this proposed amendment could have the chilling effect of discouraging high-value workers and businesses from locating in our state or accepting employment at our university, thus putting us at a competitive disadvantage relative to neighboring states in the region where no such broadly proposed restrictions now exist.

If Mason is not allowed to offer competitive benefits for all employees, and if benefits for unmarried individuals are reduced, we will lose the competitive advantage of both our location and our status as a nationally recognized institution of excellence. Mason could lose its ability to recruit and retain top quality students, faculty, staff and researchers if the Commonwealth of Virginia is seen as a less tolerant state where discriminatory state law is allowed to persist. Over time, heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual students, faculty and staff, could choose to go to states more tolerant and embracing of diversity.

The office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia, has provided an advisory opinion which states that it is their position that the proposed amendment will not affect the current legal rights of unmarried persons involving contracts, wills, advance medical directives, shared equity agreements or group accident and sickness insurance policies, or alter any other rights that do not “approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage” or create “the rights, benefits, obligations, quality or effects of marriage.” Furthermore, the opinion states that passage of the marriage amendment will not modify the application and enforcement of Virginia’s domestic violence laws.

We encourage you to educate yourself on the language of this proposed amendment, and vote for what you believe is in the best interest of all citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We promise you that irrespective of the outcome of the vote, we will do all that we legally can do to ensure that Mason continues its rich history of embracing diversity. To the extent possible under the law, we will ensure that equal benefits will be available to all students, faculty and staff.

But no matter how you feel about this important issue, we urge you to vote on Tuesday, November 7.

Morrie Scherrens, Senior Vice President
Peter Stearns, Provost
Sandy Hubler, Vice President University Life

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