Metro Weekly

Virginia Senate committee approves pro-LGBT employment and fair housing bills

Both measures pass with bipartisan support, including from a majority of the committee's Republicans

Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) – Photos: Facebook.

For the second year in a row, a Virginia Senate committee approved two nondiscrimination bills seeking to make LGBT Virginian’s lives a little easier.

On Monday, the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology overwhelmingly approved a measure by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing by an 11-3 margin. It also approved a bill by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in state and public employment by a 12-3 margin. In both cases, the bills won the support of a majority of the eight Republicans on the committee.

Last year, similar measures passed the full Senate, with five Republicans crossing over to vote with all of the chamber’s 19 Democrats. One of those Republicans, Jill Vogel (R-Upperville) has consistently been the crossover vote for LGBT nondiscrimination bills, which have managed to pass the Senate by slim margins in previous cycles. But following the 2015 elections, a quartet of freshmen senators within the Republican caucus began signaling an openness to back measures promoting LGBT equality, allowing the bills to pass by wider margins than expected.

Interestingly, Vogel is running for lieutenant governor this year, as is another member of the General Laws Committee, Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), who has voted against every LGBT measure that has come before the Senate in recent years — and did so, once again, on Monday.

Some political observers had previously worried that Vogel might be pressured to change her vote to appeal to Republican primary voters, or that Reeves might try to use Vogel’s past support for LGBT rights to paint her as insufficiently conservative on social issues. Because the senators’ terms are not up until 2019, neither would have to vacate their seat in order to run for lieutenant governor. But were Vogel to win the general election, she could potentially be replaced, via a special election, by a Republican who is hostile towards the LGBT community.

Both the fair housing and public employment bills will be voted upon within the coming week. But the real hurdle that both measures will face is not passing the Senate, but getting out of subcommittees in the House of Delegates that have been stacked with unfriendly Republicans from solidly Republican districts. As a result, the bills are likely to die in the House.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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