Amendment 1 in Virginia | It hurts all Virginians

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“Virginia is for Lovers”? Can I sue the Commonwealth of Virginia for false advertising? (BTW, does anyone know the difference between a State and a Commonwealth?)

Virginia needs to change the state motto to “Virginia is for legally married couples. Forget being in a long-term relationship that’s not one of those: you can’t make a legally binding contract (like a last will, a durable power of attorney, a medical decision form, or adopt a child with your significant other).” Hmm, that would be a long bumper sticker.

That is why my partner of 17 years and I are closing up our medical practice. We are moving to Cape May, NJ where civil union exists. It has been a painful, ulcer-producing decision to make because we love our patients and staff. We have put a lot of money, time, and heart (free of cholesterol plaques) into our practice.

What surprises me is how many people don’t know what Amendment 1 actually says. I can see it in their eyes when they respond, “So, you’re leaving because Amendment 1– which we voted into the Virginia Constitution in 2006– doesn’t allow you to make any legal contracts to protect each other’s assets or health?” [Insert glossy-eyed look and deep furrowed brows.] “I thought the Amendment was just to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Why should there be a constitutional law to dictate how you live your life?”

Amendment 1 states, “A civil union, partnership contract, or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract, or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia, and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.”

So as a doctor, I find it ironic that I stand up for patients’ rights, but I can’t allow my own partner, who is also a doctor, to guide my medical care if I am in very ill. He can’t legally manage my finances if I’m in a coma. (Hey, I’m not being drama queen here. Things happen, and I see it often enough in my practice.) Technically, in this Commonwealth, my brother has to make decisions for me. Why should my brother have to suffer with this? (He had to suffer enough growing up with me.)

I have known dozens of same-sex couples who have moved out of Virginia in the past few years, including doctors, professors, lawyers, carpenters, teachers, and researchers. It might not matter to you, but it probably matters to your friends or relatives.

I actually hate controversy, but enough people have pushed me to explain why we are leaving Virginia, and it isn’t because of the ham. I hope our move opens some eyes and that maybe one day Virginians will nullify that constitutional amendment because doing so would be the humane, civil, decent thing to do.

I never expected to become a local celebrity. NBC29 allowed me to flash my pearly whites a couple of times a week for eight years, even when I wore braces. The Hook allowed me to get carpal tunnel syndrome from typing my humorous but informative medical articles. The Charlottesville/Albemarle community gave me chances to raise awareness and money for good causes. My patients and staff are the best people in the world. I will always be thankful for these things.

I hope the community continues to support my articles as I write from the sandy beaches of Cape May. Maybe my dream of dying on the beach like Barbara Hershey in Beaches will come true after all– but in 35 years or so. And when I do, my partner will be able to make decisions about my final days, and then inherit all my worldly goods.

New Jersey, here we come!

(Note: First I thank all the support I have received from readers and the community. I do want to respond that I have done a lot for the GLBT community in Charlottesville over the past 20 years. I think probably more than most ever will. So no one can say I didn’t put up a fight. Now it is time I pass the baton to those who still live here.)

(c) Dr. John Hong, Inc.

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