The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate sustained vetoes of two so-called “religious freedom” measures that would have permitted discrimination against LGBTQ people and same-sex couples by people who have sincerely held religious beliefs about homosexuality or same-sex marriage.
The two measures, billed as “solemnization of marriage” bills, purport to allow ministers or clergy the right to refuse to perform or solemnize same-sex marriage, a right they already enjoy under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. HB 2025, sponsored by Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper), and SB 1324, sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, Sr. (R-Galax), also insulate any “person” — defined not just as an individual, but a religious organization, and any business or organization loosely affiliated with any religion — from being penalized for any speech or actions they may take in accordance with their beliefs opposing same-sex marriage or homosexuality.
The measures had passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates, and narrowly, on a party-line vote, in the more evenly split Senate. But Gov. Terry McAuliffe had vowed to veto any measure that could be seen as hostile to LGBTQ rights, and did so last month.
McAuliffe said in his veto message that any measure thought to be hostile to LGBTQ people could potentially threaten the economy. He cited the backlash that North Carolina felt after it passed the anti-LGBT law known as HB 2 as an example of what could befall Virginia if it embraced discriminatory measures.
“Although couched as a ‘religious freedom’ bill, this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize,” McAuliffe said in his veto statement, saying the bill was “unconstitutional” and equated to “discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.”
Both bills went back to their respective chambers, giving lawmakers a chance to override the vetoes. But because Democrats have 34 seats in the 100-member House, there was no way to muster the 67 votes needed for an override of HB 2025. Additionally, six GOP members had voted against the initial bill, making it even more likely that McAuliffe’s veto would be sustained.
The Senate voted again on party lines, 21-19, to override the veto of SB 1324, falling short of the required threshold of 27 votes.
What that means is that both measures are effectively dead until next year, when a newly-elected legislature will be seated. If Republicans retain control of both chambers, as they are expected to following the 2017 elections, it is likely the bills will be revived next session.
What will determine whether they pass or die will likely be the partisan affiliation of Virginia’s next governor, who will also be elected this November. The three Republican candidates: Ed Gillespie, Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, and Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) have all indicated they would sign into law similar “religious freedom” measures. Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has a record of voting against such measures from his time as state senator, and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D) has generally been considered a friend of the LGBTQ community.
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