Virginia’s “religious freedom” bills joined, headed for House subcommittee this week
Two bills that would allow businesses to discriminate against Virginia’s LGBTQ community were joined into one Senate bill Monday afternoon in Senate General Laws and Technology subcommittee.
While a House version of the bill, HB 773, was heard today, the subcommittee joined it with SB 41 by a 8-7 vote across party lines.
SB 41, introduced by Republican Sen. Charles Carrico, states that no ordained individuals, such as pastors or ministers, or religious organization are required to provide services or accommodations for something that would “violate a sincerely held religious belief.” Read the full text here.
Del. Todd Gilbert (R -Shenandoah County) introduced HB 773 last month and since then, it has passed through a subcommittee and full committee as well as a full House vote last week. Carrico’s passed the Senate earlier this month in a 20-19 vote.
Known as the “Government Nondiscrimination Act” HB 773 would prohibit “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 and that the terms “man” and “woman” refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics of the individual at the time of birth.”
It’s anything but nondiscrimination. The bill would allow businesses to deny services to those who go against their religious beliefs.
There were many individuals that spoke today in favor and against the bill.
“SB 41… does not simply talk about ministers and making sure that ministers aren’t forced to do something that violates their religious beliefs,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director:of the ACLU of Virginia, clarifying those stances are protected by the first amendment. “What this bill does do is extend the privilege of doing that to judges and to anybody else who is appointed to solemnize a civil marriage. It goes beyond that as well in the second paragraph to extend some kind of privileges to organizations that are working in collaboration with religious organizations.”
Rodney Thomas, representing Virginia NAACP also had a powerful objection to HB 773.
“I firmly accept someone having deeply religious beliefs, however to use that to deny services to anyone is unconscionable,” he said. “If this was 1965 someone could deny me services just because their deep religious beliefs, according to the Bible, being black, I’m not equal to being human. Virginia seems to be regressing, instead of moving forward. Your religious beliefs should not impact on living existence of an individual. That’s not fair. That’s not right.”
Josh Hetzler, representing Richmond based conservative group The Family Foundation had a few things to say in favor of the bill.
“This bill is actually quite narrow it deals only with the solemnization of marriage ceremonies for religious entities and churches, synagogues, mosques and the people who are employed by them should not have to participate in a ceremony that violates their religious faith,” Hetzler said.
Although the conformed bill will be heard Thursday in the House General Laws subcommittee, that was not the outcome opponents were hoping for today.
Speaking after the meeting adjourned, James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia Advocates, shared his opposition of both bills.
“It was the hope that they would just kill it today and stop the insanity,” Parrish said. He said the new combined bill will now head to a House subcommittee, with the Senate bill’s language conforming to the House version which allows for broader discrimination.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe came out with a statement last week that he would veto the legislation should it reach his desk according to the Washington Blade.
“The governor opposes any legislation that will make Virginia less open and welcoming to people based on their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation,” McAuliffe spokesperson Brian Coy told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “He’s working to build a more equal and more prosperous Virginia and this bill is a step in the wrong direction.”
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