Religious Freedom bill just days away from passing Virginia House
A bill which would allow businesses to deny services to Virginia’s LGBTQ population has advanced to the House floor after a rapid subcommittee and full committee hearing today.
HB 773, the Government Nondiscrimination Act, aims to “prohibits a government entity from taking any discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
The bill goes on to define man and woman as an “individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics of the individual at the time of birth.”
It would also not allow the state to deny any service, such as grants, contracts, licenses, or otherwise to a business or organization which refuses to serve LGBTQ people, but it would allow businesses to deny serves to those who go against their deeply held religious beliefs.
“It’s intended to restore reasonable accommodations in the area of religious liberty,” said Del. Todd Gilbert (top image), author of the bill and head of the House General Laws committee who heard the bill today. “The culture is changing and changing quickly and significantly. I think its changing in a way that many advocates for gay and transgender people and people who chose to marry people of the same-sex, that it’s changing in a way they are very happy about. That still runs contrary to people who have deeply held religious convictions that are long held and as old as humanity itself.”
Gilbert stress his bill aims to “protect those long and deeply held beliefs and do it in a way that it is limited to these emerging issues – traditional marriage and gender issues.”
“Is important, as the culture changes, people are protected from abuses by the government,” said Gilbert, referencing incidents in other states like New York where a couple was fined $13,000 for refusing to allow a same-sex marriage on their farm-event space.
“This has nothing to do with private entities discriminating or not discriminating, this isn’t the wedding cake baker bill, this ensures the government cannot punish someone for those deeply held beliefs,” said Gilbert.
Josh Hetzler spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the Richmond based conservative group The Family Foundation. He stressed the goal of the bill was to protect small businesses, like cake bakers, florists and photographers, from having to pay fines if they refused services to same-sex couples.
“These are all businesses that have come under sever scrutiny by state and local governments… for politely, but consciously, declined a service because doing so would conflict with the owners deeply held religious beliefs about marriage,” he said, pointing out the businesses in those cases simply “choosing not to host a same-sex wedding at their business.”
Opposition to the bill was also present, with Noah Sulivan, a representative from the office of Governor Terry McAuliffe saying they wanted to “register the administration’s opposition to this bill.”
Other opposition came from Erika Sheffer, a spokesperson for the American Unity fund, a republican-cause that supports LGBT Americans with a conservative case for equality.
“Freedom surely means freedom fro everyone,” she said. “Our freedom of speech and our personal beliefs already enjoy the strongest possible protections under the first amendment regardless if they are considered discriminatory… however HB 773 goes a step further and overreaches by protecting discriminatory actions.”
James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, also spoke in opposition to the bill saying it ”doubles down on discrimination” already illegal in our commonwealth and protects discrimination against lesbian and gay couples.
“The discriminator is protected, not the individuals facing the discrimination,” he said. “We support the freedom of religion, but this bill provides broad, potentially unconstitutional protections for individuals, organizations and businesses to unfairly single out and discriminate against Virginias gay and lesbian families.”
GayRVA’s Editor, Brad Kutner, also spoke against the bill – see video and read text of that speech here.
But testimony was not enough to sway the subcommittee which voted in support of HB 773. As this was the last day to hear bill’s in subcommittee before GA crossover, the bill was then fast-tracked to a full committee vote where it also passed.
YEAS–Gilbert, Albo, Wright, Anderson, Greason, Knight, LeMunyon, Helsel, Robinson, Hodges, Bell, Richard P., Minchew, Leftwich–13.
NAYS–Yost, Ward, Bulova, Carr, Torian, McQuinn, Hester–7.
It now heads for a full floor vote.
A Senate version of Gilbert’s bill, SB41, is currently on the Senate floor and has its final vote this AM. GayRVA will update this story when that vote happens.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto any law which would make “Virginia less welcoming,” and he specifically pointed to Gilbert’s bill as one he would target.
A Code Commission hold can silence groups from telling their stories in front of lawmakers.July 13, 2016
- Prev Last of Del. Marshall’s anti-LGBTQ bills dies in House committee
- Next GayRVA’s Editor testifies against Virginia’s proposed “religious freedom” laws
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