Metro Weekly

Nine anti-gay bills loom large over Virginia in 2016

LGBT advocates are wary of 9 anti-gay or anti-trans measures being pushed by lawmakers

Marriage equality may be the law of the land following last year’s Supreme Court decision, but anti-gay lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly are hitting back with a vengeance against both same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights.

With Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in the governor’s mansion, LGBT advocates have a bulwark against any hostile measures that manage to pass the General Assembly. And, following the defeat of anti-gay Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth, Norfolk) in last year’s Democratic primary, the House of Delegates has enough Democrats and fair-minded Republicans to sustain a gubernatorial veto.

However, Equality Virginia and its allies in the commonwealth are watching closely to see whether nine anti-gay and anti-transgender bills gain enough steam to pass, or whether Republican leadership of either chamber will scuttle them before they gain traction.

The one that is expected to get the most support from House leadership is a bill introduced by Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock, Front Royal, Luray), which would create the “Government Nondiscrimination Act.” That act would prevent the government from taking “discriminatory” or retaliatory action against a person or business who has a “sincerely held religious belief” that opposes homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or denies the existence of transgender individuals. The act would allow these people and businesses to continue to receive benefits such as special tax breaks, government contracts, loans, certifications, or accreditations, regardless of whether they actively discriminate against LGBT people.

Longtime anti-LGBT opponent Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas, Manassas Park, Sudley, Bull Run) is back again this session with two bills. The first would essentially nullify any pro-LGBT federal policy, rule or regulation that was passed after Jan. 1, 2012, at least for determining what constitutes discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The second Marshall bill would explicitly prohibit any school board or political subdivision within the commonwealth from adopting any pro-LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance or policy. Under Dillon’s Rule, such actions are only implicitly banned, though Attorney General Mark Herring has said in an opinion that Dillon’s Rule does not apply to local school boards. That opinion was the basis for policies that were recently adopted by the Fairfax County School Board and Arlington County School Board to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination against employees, staff and students.

Delegates Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton, Lovettsville, Berryville) and Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg, Hartwood, Remington) have each introduced two bills targeting Virginia’s transgender community. LaRock’s first bill would prohibit the commonwealth and any of its subdivisions from adopting any policy that treats gender identity discrimination as equivalent to sex discrimination, regardless of any federal ruling on the issue. The other would prohibit anyone from amending their birth certificate without a court order, and then only if the initial sex designation was wrong due to a typographical error.

Cole’s bills, meanwhile, deal with restroom usage by transgender people, particularly public school students. His first attempt became a laughingstock among opponents because it referenced “anatomical sex” and has been interpreted by some as requiring teachers and administrators to check students’ genitals before allowing them to use the bathroom. That initial bill also allowed students who did not wish to use the bathroom of their “anatomical sex” to ask for a single stall bathroom or changing facility.

However, after receiving some pushback, Cole introduced another bill on the same topic adopting a more stringent approach. Under that legislation, every restroom in the commonwealth — including in schools — would be designated for use by people according to their “biological sex” only, and eliminates the list of alternative provisions that could have been provided to transgender students from his first version of the bill.

Lastly, Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Galax, Abingdon, Bristol, Gate City) has introduced two bills attacking same-sex marriage in the commonwealth. Even though licenses for same-sex marriages have been issued, without any problem, for more than a year, one of Carrico’s bills would allow county clerks to pull a “Kim Davis” and refuse to issue any licenses that violate their religious beliefs. In the case of an objecting county clerk, the couple would be forced to seek a marriage license at their local DMV office.

Carrico’s other anti-gay bill has two parts: providing an already existing First Amendment protection to churches and religious ministers to allow them to refuse to marry same-sex couples; and also a “conscience clause” exemption allowing individuals, businesses or places of public accommodations to cite religious objections when denying services to LGBT people, without the fear of a lawsuit.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish highlighted Carrico’s second bill as absurd because the first part is “unnecessary,” granting protections already granted by the First Amendment, and LGBT advocates in the Old Dominion are not even asking ministers to be forced to marry same-sex coupes. Parrish called the second part of the “conscience clause” bill “too broad, and too vague as to whom these religious exemptions would be extended.”

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