New bill would create “Jim Crow”-era laws for LGBTQ Virginians
A new bill before the 2015 general assembly would allow private Virginia businesses the right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
HB1414, authored by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas), states a person would not be required to “perform, assist, consent to, or participate in any action” as a condition of “obtaining or renewing a government-issued license, registration, or certificate” if such actions would “violate the religious or moral convictions of such person.”
Marshall goes on to clarify the bill by specifying those religious convictions with “respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.”
According to Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director for the ACLU of Virginia, Marshall’s bill would give “every individual, business, professional who gets any kind of license, registration, or certificate from the state, the locality, or any other agency or authority, board or department which would include every college and university” a license to discriminate.
Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal Counsel who fought Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage last year, echoed Guthrie Gastañaga’s concerns.
“This legislation threatens the mental and physical health of Virginia residents, is horrible policy, and is unconstitutional.” said Nevins. He said the bill would allow a doctor not to prescribe HIV meds to a gay man or a therapist not to counsel professionally a patient seeking to work through issues in his or her same-sex relationship.
He called HB1414 “unethical, abusive and dangerous.”
“This legislation just invites a mess of problems for Virginia,” he said.
Del. Marshall is no stranger to bills aimed at the LGBTQ community. He was one of the authors of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which passed by popular vote in 2006.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director for the ACLU of Virginia, said Del. Marshall could dress his proposal up in “whatever fancy preambles he chooses,” but HB1414 is nothing more than a license to discriminate.
“We’ve been down this path before,” said Guthrie Gastañaga. ”And the members of the General Assembly should know from our own sordid history that this is not a path we should willingly walk ever again.”
With a Republican dominated House and Senate, HB 1414 could pass both legislative bodies. Governor McAuliffe has the power to veto the bill; however, in the 2014 General Assembly session Gov. McAuliffe passed similar conscience clause legislation which allows genetic counselors to discriminate against individuals who did not agree with their moral or religious beliefs.
But not all hope is lost, Del. Mark Sickles, Virginia’s only openly-gay member of the House of Delegates, believes even if the bill passes both the house and senate, McAuliffe will strike it down.
“After all Governor McAuliffe has done to reposition the Commonwealth as a welcoming state for business,” said Sickles in a statement. “This is the very last thing we need in our effort to diversify our economy and reduce our reliance on federal spending.”
Equality Virginia has promised to do what it can to fight the legislation as the 2015 General Assembly opens this week.
“Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but when you operate a business or run an agency that’s open to the public, your religious beliefs do not give you a license to discriminate,” said James Parrish, executive director with Equality Virginia. “Discrimination is wrong – it’s that simple.”
Virginia was one of the earlier states to adopt conscience clause based legislation. In 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill allowing state-funded adoption agencies to deny adoptions to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.
Attempts to reach Del. Marshall, Gov. McAillfe, and AG Herring were not returned
Top image of Del. Bob Marshall via Facebook
Editors note: The original version of this story was incorrect in its headline and content stating HB1414 would allow state employees to discriminate. It actually would apply to private businesses. We apologize for this error.
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