Ahead of Monday hearing, National groups link with VA ACLU to halt passage of Virginia’s vague anti-same-sex marriage bill
While our Democratic Governor has promised to veto any anti-LGBTQ legislation, it hasn’t stopped conservative members of the legislature from trying to pass it anyway. Armed with “solemnization bills” which give vague protections to religious groups to deny any number of services connected to same-sex marriage, Virginia GOP members are now facing a call to action from some of the nation’s largest equality groups.
The Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council, Americans United for Separation of Church and state and the Virginia ACLU have all penned a letter to Senator Frank M. Ruff, Jr., Chair of the Virginia Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, hoping to dissuade him from allowing HB 2025 to pass.
“[The bill] would sanction discrimination against LGBT Virginians—including by government contractors, grantees in performing publicly funded services and in places of public accommodation, and interfere with their fundamental right to marry,” reads the letter. “Freedom of religion is a core American value.”
HB2025, which passed the House in a full floor vote last week and heads to the Senate in the coming weeks, offers a shield to any “person” from punishment from the state, civil or otherwise, if they deny services in a same-sex marriage.
It goes on to define a person as a “religious organization, organization supervised or controlled by or operated in connection with a religious organization, individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of his paid or volunteer employment, successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality of any of the foregoing or clergy member or minister.”
In layman’s terms, it aimed to protect pastors and other faith leaders in churches from civil or criminal punishment if they denied services to same-sex couples. However the bill has also been interpreted by some activists to include other faith-based organizations like church run schools or hospitals, giving them the ability to refuse visitation rights by same-sex couples, or deny the children of same-sex parents in parochial programs.
“I fundamentally don’t believe that the government should be coercing people to do things that they don’t want to do,” said Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas (R -30, Culpepper), author of the bill, during the floor reading last week. “I take a fairly broad view of that. We don’t want to be engaging in bigoted discrimination, but when the government is engaged in a form of discrimination against a religious institution, it may require us to pass certain bills.”
But recently submitted letter says the bill would cause “real harm and suffering to people” as well as violate the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the First and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Any “person”—which may include for-profit corporations and government contractors and grantees—could refuse another Virginian rights, services, and benefits on the basis religious belief,” reads the letter. “This bill would allow for discrimination in two distinct but interrelated ways. The first part focuses on the participation in solemnization of marriage while the second, more broadly eliminates any penalty for a “person’s belief, speech, or action” based on the religious or moral belief that marriage is or should between one man and one woman. “
The VAACLU said they have yet to hear a response from Sen. Ruff, but the bill is set to be heard this Monday, 2/13, during the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology. The meeting starts 30 min. after adjournment in Senate Room A at the Virginia General Assembly building.
The bill is one of MANY to be heard, but if you wish to make your voice heard, take the afternoon off and come on down.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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