The Virginia Senate approved two pro-LGBTQ bills that ban discrimination in public employment and housing.
The bills, patroned by Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg), would ensure LGBTQ people are not discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Republicans maintain a two-seat edge in the chamber, but half of the Republican caucus voted with all 19 of the chamber’s Democrats to pass both bills by a margin of 29-10, including several Republicans from more conservative areas of the state who had not previously voted for a pro-LGBTQ bill.
Ebbin hailed passage of both bills as a sign of “continued progress for the new Virginia economy,” adding that “forward-thinking companies want to locate in states where all their employees feel welcome and are safe from discriminatory practices.”
“I have proudly championed this legislation for the last three years. It is gratifying to see it pass the Senate again and I look forward to bringing it over to the House,” Wexton said in a statement. “This is not only an issue of fundamental fairness but also of economic viability. What business will want to come to Virginia when their employees can be denied housing because of whom they love or how they identify?”
The bills now head to the House of Delegates, where they have been killed in subcommittee in past years. But Democrats gained 15 seats in November’s elections, narrowing Republicans’ edge from a 66-34 margin to a 51-49 margin.
As a result, Democrats have picked up one seat on each House subcommittee, meaning LGBTQ advocates only have to sway a handful of Republicans to successfully send a bill to the larger committee for consideration — a crucial step in the legislative process.
Both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia celebrated the bills’ successful passage by the widest margin in Virginia Senate history, and urged lawmakers in the House to pave the way to allowing a floor vote on the bill. Advocates believe they have the 51 votes needed to pass both measures if all 100 members are allowed a vote, meaning the subcommittee is the last — and likely most significant hurdle to writing LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections into the Code of Virginia.
“Today, the Virginia Senate stood up for fairness and equality by voting to make the commonwealth a more welcoming and inclusive place for all Virginians, including LGBTQ people,” Marty Rouse, HRC’s National Field Director, said in a statement. “It’s essential for the future of Virginia that the newly elected House of Delegates move swiftly to ensure these long-overdue protections are passed and sent to Governor Northam to be signed into law. These are basic non-discrimination protections that LGBTQ Virginians need and deserve.”
“Both parties came together today to pass non-discrimination protections consistent with the views of a majority of Virginians who believe gay and transgender people should be able to work and live free from discrimination,” James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that with a new Speaker, and many new pro-equality members, that these bills will pass in the House of Delegates, where they have stopped short of protecting LGBT Virginians in the past.”
Joseph Papa, the communications director for Equality Virginia, told Metro Weekly that the organization will be encouraging Virginians to contact their legislators and express their support for both bills.
According to the General Assembly website, the members of Subcommittee #4, which deals with employment-related bills, are: Keith Hodges (R-Urbanna), Buddy Fowler (R-Ashland), James Leftwich (R-Chesapeake), Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), and Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean).
The members of Subcommittee #3, which deals with housing issues — and, quite unusually, has 9 members — are: Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), Christopher Peace (R-Mechanicsville), Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), Leftwich, Miyares, Will Morefield (R-North Tazewell), Luke Torian (D-Woodbridge), Jay Jones (Norfolk), and Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).
A listing of all House Delegates, along with phone numbers for their district and Richmond offices, can be found at virginiageneralassembly.gov.
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