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Two Virginia cities OK same-sex benefits, but moves symbolic

RICHMOND, Va. — City councils in Charlottesville and Richmond have approved ordinances extending benefits to the spouses of employees in same-sex relationships. But the moves are only symbolic.

Virginia’s constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Media outlets report that Richmond City Council approved a same-sex benefits ordinance Monday on a 5-3 vote. Charlottesville City Council approved a similar ordinance on Oct. 7.

Richmond Councilwoman Kathy C. Graziano abstained from voting on Richmond’s ordinance. She said that she doesn’t consider passing an ordinance that can’t be enforced as good policy.

Richmond council President Charles R. Samuels, who supported the ordinance, said that it is similar to pre-emptive measures that Richmond has taken to prepare for the potential privatization of state ABC stores.

“We know that’s coming,” Samuels said. “And when it comes, the city of Richmond’s ready.”

The ordinance drew both support and opposition from residents who spoke during a public comment period before Monday’s vote.

“The day will come that you will answer for what you done here tonight by condoning something that’s contrary to what God said to do,” said South Richmond resident Charles Evans Hughes. “The devil has got to be in you. Y’all can laugh at that all you want, but the devil is in you.”

Jim Hill, who identified himself as a gay city employee, thanked the council for the ordinance.

Richmond Councilman Chris A. Hilbert defended his support of the ordinance.

“I’m very assured that when I’m standing there that my vote tonight won’t be something that I am ashamed of,” Hilbert said. “It will be something where we are expanding compassion to our fellow human beings.”

Charlottesville council members passed their city’s ordinance without discussion. City Attorney Craig Brown had called the ordinance a “statement of policy” when the council first considered the measure.