VA senate fails to overturn vetoed ‘religious freedoms’ bill
Yesterday’s veto session stretched late into the night, but the only LGBTQ-related bill which made it to the Governor’s desk stayed on the floor as the Senate failed to override McAuliffe’s veto.
SB 41, sponsored by Sen. Carrico (top image, left), aimed to “Provides that no person shall be (i) required to participate in the solemnization of any marriage or (ii) subject to any penalty, any civil liability, or any other action by the Commonwealth, or its political subdivisions or representatives or agents, solely on account of such person’s belief, speech, or action in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.
In laymen’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 was also interpreted by some 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.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill based on these fears, as well as how the bill could be received by businesses or people hoping to visit the state.
“Any legitimate protections afforded by Senate Bill 41 are duplicative of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;” wrote McAuliffe in a statement sent out after vetoing the bill in late March. He also pointed to Virginia’s long-held Religious Freedoms Act which already allows religious leaders and orgs like priests and churches to deny services if it violates their beliefs.
“Any additional protections are styled in a manner that prefers one religious viewpoint—that marriage can only validly exist between a man and a woman—over all other viewpoints,” he said. “Such a dynamic is not only unconstitutional, it equates to discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.”
But yesterday, Sen. Carrico sought to defend his bill stressing it would “strengthen [those] protections and protect them from any charges if some were too arise.”
“This bill is a[n] attempt to protect pastors from going against things that they believe are of a deeply held religious belief,” the Senator said. “Unlike some of the things the Governor is pointing out happening in other states, this is looking at the mere fact that a pastor who believes a marriage is between one man and one woman, and has doctrinal and religious beliefs within their religious organization, that they can and will be protect from criminal or civil prosecution and strengthens what we agree should be already constitutionally protected.”
Carrico found few vocal allies on the Senate floor yesterday, however Sen. Adam Ebbin (top image, middle), Virginia’s only openly gay Senator, spoke in opposition to the measure, echoing Gov. McAuliffe’s concerns.
“This bill would provide a license to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families and could be seen to allow discrimination by schools or hospitals that are religiously affiliated,” Ebbin said, noting the bill offers protections to those who don’t believe in or support same-sex marriage, but does little for fans of marriage equality.
“It offers no protections for the law of the land, for marriage equality,” he said. “Similar legislation has been bad for business in other state and I would contend that passing this bill would be bad for business in Virginia.”
Roanoke Senator John Edwards (top image, right) also spoke in opposition to the bill saying it would send the wrong signal to possible investors in the state.
“It hurts business in Virginia, it makes Virginia look like its not welcome to people… it also tries to provide immunity for people who would like to violate the constitution with regard to equality in marriage who are engaged in a civil ceremony, not a religious ceremony,” he said.
When it came time to vote, the numbers lined up to the bill’s original vote back in March, 21-y to 18-n. In order to override a veto, you need at least 2/3rd’s support which this vote failed to achieve, killing it for the year.
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