Giant restroom entrance as viewed from public sidewalk – Photo: JD Uy
A measure that would have instituted a North Carolina-style law prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms and changing facilities that match their gender identity was defeated by a Virginia House subcommittee on Thursday afternoon.
HB 1612, sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas), would have required transgender people to use the restroom matching the biological sex as listed on their birth certificate, instead of the gender with which they identify.
An earlier version of the bill would have required that one’s sex be determined by the sex listed on their “original” birth certificate — something that would have applied to even those transgender people who have undergone gender confirmation surgery — but Marshall asked the committee if he could amend the bill to remove the word “original” from it.
The bill also contained a provision that would have required teachers and administrators to proactively report students who ask for accommodations based on their gender identity to inform the students’ parents, even in cases where the student is not openly LGBT.
Nonetheless, Marshall’s amendment failed to make his measure more palatable. Despite hearing testimony in favor of the bill from organizations like the Virginia First Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference, and the Family Foundation of Virginia, the committee appeared unwilling to delve into divisive fights over social issues.
Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), who has not historically been a friend to the LGBT community, called for the bill to be tabled, which Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) seconded.
That enraged Marshall, who had spent the previous 10 minutes making his case that the bill was necessary to protect the privacy, safety and delicate sensibilities of women and children from having to share spaces such as public restrooms with transgender individuals.
Marshall called for an on-the-record vote of the subcommittee members, so that they could be held accountable by conservative voters for defeating the bill.
“Can we please do this on the record, folks, so that Virginians know what you’re doing down here?” Marshall asked angrily. “You can’t behave one way and come down here and kill things silently. Justice demands that you give appropriate time to this, not speed this through here.”
The bill was defeated by an unrecorded voice vote, with only Del. Thomas Wright (R-South Boston) registering an objection to the motion to table it. The committee also defeated a similar bill, HB 2011 — also sponsored by Marshall — which would have codified anti-transgender discrimination into the Code of Virginia by declaring that denying someone access to facilities that do not match their biological sex at birth shall not be considered discrimination.
The bill would also have limited the ability of individual school boards to pass LGBT-inclusive protections for students and employees, as the General Assembly has not recognized protections for people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Marshall has insisted that his second bill is essential to reining in the power of Attorney General Mark Herring, who has ruled that school boards may pass LGBT-inclusive protections if they see fit.
“This Assembly has done nothing to stop Mr. Herring’s predatory rampage through the Constitution, in effect redesigning the Dillon Rule to suit his political agenda,” Marshall told the committee. “If you do nothing, you are ratifying his efforts to refashion the constitution without the normal due process of two passages by the General Assembly, of identical language, with an election in between. He’s doing this, and we’re doing nothing to stop it.
“Defend your oath [of office], vote for this bill,” he concluded.
When the committee voted to table the bill, Marshall angrily said: “I’m going to pray that you all get courage,” before stomping away.
The committee did approve a “religious freedom” bill, by Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) that would allow a “person” (defined broadly to include churches, religious organizations and other entities) to refuse to solemnize marriages to which they have religious or moral objections. That passed on a voice vote, with all five Republicans on the subcommittee approving and both Democrats objecting.
A bill prohibiting discrimination in public and private employment was continued to another date, while a more comprehensive bill prohibiting discrimination in public employment, housing and public accommodations was rejected by the committee and laid upon the table.
Freitas’ bill involving marriage exemptions will now go before the full House Committee on General Laws, which Republicans control by a 15-7 margin. Equality Virginia opposes Freitas’ bill because it purports to protect clergy and houses of worship from having to participate in same-sex marriages, but clergy and churches are already enjoy such protections under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.