DRHOOK- For lovers? Amendment 1 drives doctors away

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

"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!


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice and an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.



I do not see where the law prohibits you from giving medical power of attorney to your patner or combining your finances.

Sears and Roebuck were not married.

It may take a little creativeness to make your situation function but it can be done.

I am not against gay mariage, I just do not want it to be enacted until the logistical problems are solved. For instance, if you can marry your partner and get family health insurance why can't I marry my mother for the inheritance of spouse benifit? I am sterile, so a child is not part of the equation and incest is as much a right as homsexuality in the "I was born this way why should society tell who I can and can't love?

I am sorry you fell a need to move over this, but I hope that when you see homoesexuals acting like rockettes demanding rights you point out to them that their behvior is as much to blame for the laws as the closed minded bigots.

All Virginians should be alarmed to know that highly-contributing residents are leaving our communities because of prevalent anti-gay bigotry and social-structural violence against sexual and gender minorities, manifest in such forms as a purposefully homophobic Virginia constitutional amendment, lack of protection from workplace discrimination, lack of access to benefits routinely granted heterosexually married people, etc.

Virginia's increasingly bad reputation as a state with severe bigotry will impact aspects of economic recovery, in short and long terms. If there is a choice between Virginia and another state that does not have enforced bigotry, some corporations will select the other site(s) because of this offense to their employees and executives. Bigotry has an economic cost.

Additionally, bigotry costs in other ways. Recent research establishes that states with anti-gay constitutional amendments - such as Virginia - likely add 3-5 cases of HIV infection per 100,000 population (in Virginia this might be 210-350 cases)which are very costly to these individuals, their families, their workplaces, and to taxpayers in the Commonwealth. Other research shows that states - such as Virginia - that have no hate crimes protections, and no workplace protections, for sexual and gender minorities, create a burden of psychiatric illness (depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and substance abuse disorders) that would not likely otherwise occur, again adding significant costs to these individuals, their families, their workplaces and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Of course, many sexual and gender minority Virginians remain in Virginia - because of work, children in school, caring for elderly parents, a love of the land and history, etc ... all the same reasons that heterosexual persons and families live here. Yet because of bigotry, their contributions as doctors, police officers, teachers, carpenters, mechanics, lawyers, chefs, parents, grandparents, caregivers, etc ... are not shown the same respect as is shown to heterosexuals: They are not protected in the workplace, they do not receive comparable benefits from state agencies, they do not receive similar tax deductions, and data show that they are not paid the same as heterosexuals. Recent data ( a 2009 demographic study ) find that there are likely more than 150,000 gay and bisexual men in Virginia, and studies using the 2000 US Census data suggest that there are likely over one-quarter million gay men, lesbians, and bisexual men and women in Virginia, and somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 gay and lesbian couples ( identifying from every city and county in Virginia - EVERY county, from the most populous to the most remote ).

Data are not the end-all or be-all, but ought to be the basis for arguments about social policies: what do reliable data show about the pros and cons, the benefits and the impacts, of a social policy. Truths established by reliable data ought to be the basis for arguments about gay and lesbian Virginians, and their rights, not ridiculous analogies to retail magnates, incest, sterility, and groups of dancing women.

I main reason I voted against this amendment was that there was no problem before. It was a stupid solution looking for a problem that didn't exist.

"you attcked me so I will attack you."

was that in a comment that got deleted? I've read everything on this page twice and cant find it.


From "a god fearing Virgianans" last paragraph"

Truths established by reliable data ought to be the basis for arguments about gay and lesbian Virginians, and their rights, not ridiculous analogies to retail magnates, incest, sterility, and groups of dancing women.

Thank you, Dr. Hong and Dr. Zitney for your compassioned work and drive to heal. May the hate and fear filled words spoken and written fall deep into a black whole – Void of Presence. Powerless. Compacted. Decimated.

As one of Dr. Hong's patients, and as a friend, I have to say that I totally agree with his logic. It IS true that other family members, if they want to, can contest any will, living will, partnership agreement, etc. between two members of the same sex simply because of this dreaded amendment. They do have the ability to challenge such an arrangement in court, and we all know how "forward thinking" every judge in Virginia seems to be(see the Sharon Bottoms case if you want proof).

We, as a same sex couple, lived in Virginia for nearly 14 years. We were active in our local church, one of us served as president of our children's PTO several times, we volunteered untold hours and many, many dollars toward social equity and what we found in return was a law purposely written to exclude us from the simplest of legal assurances. We stayed just long enough to see both our children graduate high school and enter college on their own.

We have now relocated to state where an anti-gay marriage amendment was defeated by the populace. Several of our best friends have done the same thing. We now are working toward social equity in our new state and the outlook is very good. Too bad, Virginia, you have lost and excellent professor, and if I say so myself, a darn good carpenter.

As a patient of Dr. Hong, I am sad to see a caring, brilliant physician leave. As a Virginian, I am sad to see caring, productive fellow citizens that have contributed so much to their community leave. Someone much wiser than I once said "In the war for individual rights, common sense becomes the first and major casualty."

I am sad to see these fine gentlemen leave our town and our loss is certainly Cape May's gain. I am sad that I might never find a doctor whose abilities I have so much confidence in. I think that it is ironic that here in the home of Thomas Jefferson, two contributing members of our community feel that they have to leave. It was Jefferson that wrote those amazing words of:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

And to all of those folks out there that condemn or look down on people for being individuals, Wendell Wilkie said it best:
"No man has a right in America to treat any other man "tolerantly" for tolerance is the assumption of superiority. Our liberties are equal rights of every citizen."

Good luck and good living to Dr. Hong & Dr. Zitney