A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted 5-2, along party lines, to table a number of LGBT-related bills this week, shuffling them off to the Code Commission for further review and analysis.
The move, which was done for eight bills, regardless of whether they espoused a pro-equality or anti-equality viewpoint, allows lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House to avoid taking a firm position on LGBT issues for the rest of the 2016 session. By referring the bills to the Code Commission, lawmakers hope to resolve any potential conflicts that could arise between state and federal law, and between statutes and current practices. Such is the case of marriage equality, where same-sex couples are able to legally wed but the Code of Virginia has a statutory ban (separate from its voter-approved constitutional ban) prohibiting recognition of same-sex relationships.
Voting to table the bills and send them on to the Code Commission also allows Republican lawmakers to placate social conservatives who demand that all Republicans adhere to anti-gay orthodoxy while also giving them political cover by avoiding an on-the-record vote that could prove unpopular with a general electorate or a majority of their constituents. Polls have consistently shown that super-majorities of Virginians support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
Among the bills that were sent to the Code Commission and are not likely to be brought up for the remainder of this year’s legislative session were six bills granting protections in public employment, private employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as a measure that would have banned the practice of LGBT conversion therapy on minors.
From the anti-gay side, the subcommittee also referred to the Code Commission two bills submitted by Delegates Bob Marshall (R-Manassas, Manassas Park, Sudley, Bull Run) and Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton, Lovettsville, Berryville) that attempt to define gender in terms of biological sex only. Marshall’s bill seeks to nullify any pro-LGBT federal policies, rules or regulations dealing with discrimination that were either passed or came into effect after Jan. 1, 2012. LaRock’s bill seeks to prohibit the commonwealth or any subdivisions from adopting policies that treat gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination, regardless of any federal ruling on the issue.
Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s statewide LGBT organization, singled out the Republicans on Subcommittee 4 of the House Committee on General Laws as standing in the way of progress for the LGBT community.
“Today Delegates Hodges, Wright, Knight, Bell, and Leftwich stood in the path to progress and equality by choosing not to vote on bills that would harm gay and transgender Virginians, as well as bills that would provide them much needed protections,” James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “These delegates refuse to acknowledge what the majority of Virginia has long believed: protecting LGBT Virginians is not only the right thing to do, but it’s what is best for the overall success of the commonwealth.
“Our hope now is the broad Republican support in the Senate will provide the bipartisan support needed to properly and accurately represent Virginia’s people and the Code Commission will take these issues into serious consideration in the upcoming year,” added Parrish.
The House subcommittee also approved two other bills from Marshall and Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg, Hartwood, Remington), respectively, putting them up for consideration by the full committee, and, later, potentially the full House.
Marshall’s approved bill seeks to circumvent and overturn several school board policies — such as ones that passed this past year in Fairfax and Arlington counties — that prohibit discrimination against LGBT students, staff, teachers or other employees. Marshall’s bill would explicitly bind the hands of school boards from passing any such policy unless the General Assembly had passed a similar policy. Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, local government bodies are prohibited from acknowledging any class of people not recognized by the General Assembly as it pertains to nondiscrimination protections. But an opinion by Attorney General Mark Herring last year rules that Dillon’s Rule did not apply to local school boards.
Cole’s bill, meanwhile, directly targets transgender restroom use in public facilities in any government building or school in the commonwealth. Under the bill, transgender people would only be allowed to use the restroom consistent with their biological sex. The bill would also make it harder for schools to provide alternatives to restrooms or changing facilities for transgender students. Cole’s bill received much criticism, particularly in its initial form, which was interpreted as potentially requiring teachers and administrators to check students’ genitals before allowing them to use the bathroom.
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