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Group Seeks Ban on Bias Against Gays

March 6, 2010

By Robin Hertel
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill banning the discrimination of state employees based on sexual orientation was rejected by a House subcommittee this week, leaving one particular advocacy organization outraged.

Jon Blair, chief executive officer of Equality Virginia, said subcommittee members disregarded public support of Senate Bill 66. He called the decision to reject the bill “outrageous.”

“We can’t allow a few legislators to stand in the way of progress for nearly 8 million Virginians. The responsibility for this failure lies squarely at the feet of the governor,” Blair said.

SB 66, sponsored by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, cleared the Senate on a 23-17 vote in February.

But on Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee voted 5-3 to table the bill. The vote was along party lines: The five Republicans on the subcommittee voted in favor of tabling the bill; the three Democrats voted against tabling it.

McEachin introduced the bill in response to Gov. Bob McDonnell‘s Executive Order No. 6. The order, which the Republican governor signed during his first week in office, removed “sexual orientation” from his Democratic predecessor’s ban against discrimination in state employment.

McEachin said McDonnell encouraged legislators to take action on their own.

“We took governor at his word,” McEachin said. “In his campaign, the governor said he was opposed to discrimination in the workforce. Unfortunately, he has never voiced his opinions during office.”

Three days after the subcommittee’s action, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent letters to Virginia’s public colleges and universities, advising them to rescind their policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Cuccinelli said the schools lacked legislative authority to prohibit such discrimination.

Cuccinelli’s letter fueled even more opposition from Equality Virginia, which describes itself as “a statewide, non-partisan education, outreach and advocacy organization seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians.”

Blair has since sent McDonnell a letter requesting action on the behalf of the GLBT community. He stated that “failure to take positive action” will show that McDonnell’s campaign for a “‘Commonwealth of Opportunity’ is a hollow one” for gay and lesbian Virginians.

SB 66 is not completely dead, Blair said. He said the governor still could get lawmakers to approve the measure before the legislative session ends on Saturday.

McDonnell’s office stated at last week’s hearing for SB66 that it had no position on the bill.

McEachin and Blair say the recent actions of the state government are heading in the wrong direction.

“It certainly shows that Virginia is recoiling on civil rights,” McEachin said. “For the first time in history, we are taking rights away or not protecting a certain group of people. I certainly think it’s a significant step backwards.”

But others disagree. For example, the Family Foundation, a group of conservatives dedicated to “protecting traditional values,” applauded Cuccinelli’s letter and the defeat of SB 66.

In a note to its supporters, the Family Foundation said the attorney general is simply telling universities to “follow the law – Virginia law does not carve out discrimination protections for homosexuals, as it does for race, color, creed and national origin.”

The foundation said there isn’t “any actual evidence” that gays and lesbians have been discriminated against in state employment.

SB 66 is “a solution in search of a problem,” the group said on its blog.

“It really is not about discrimination. It is about government recognition – acceptance – of the homosexual lifestyle. … The goal is not anti-discrimination – it is forced acceptance of a lifestyle that many Virginians find antithetical to their faith.”