The commonwealth of Virginia became the first state in the American South to successfully pass an LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill through its legislature, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for his signature into law.
On Monday, House lawmakers had approved a revised version of the Virginia Values Act, a sweeping statewide law that amends the commonwealth’s existing human rights statute to prohibit various forms of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.
On a party-line vote, House lawmakers adopted language sought by the business community, which had expressed concerns about enforcement mechanisms in the bill and damages to which employers found to have engaged in discrimination might be subjected.
The changes bring the bill more in line with how complaints are addressed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Virginia.
On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to the House’s wording, passing the bill by a bipartisan vote of 27-13.
The measure lost support from some Republicans in both chambers, with only six GOP senators voting in favor of the measure, down from nine that had voted for the original Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).
Zero House Republicans voted in favor of the act, down from three who had supported a nearly identical bill, sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles (D-Franconia) just three weeks earlier. Del. Clint Jenkins (D-Suffolk) also switched his vote.
The lawmakers who had switched their votes were not immediately available for comment. But sources familiar with the politics behind the bill say that the more business-friendly language on enforcement was not the cause of the drop in Republican support.
Northam, a longtime LGBTQ rights ally, has vowed to sign the bill into law. Once he does, Virginia will become the 20th state overall, and the first Southern state, to pass comprehensive laws protecting LGBTQ Virginians from being denied employment, housing, credit, or access to public spaces.
“We just made Virginia a safer and more fair state for everyone,” James Parrish, the director of the Virginia Values Coalition, a coalition of statewide and national organizations who lobbied on behalf of nondiscrimination protections, said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the lawmakers, faith leaders, allies, parents, law enforcement officers and people of all political ideologies who worked together to ensure we passed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians.”
“This legislation will have a transformative and positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ Virginians,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “Our organization has been proud to advocate for bills to make a more equal and inclusive Commonwealth for years. This new law sends a strong message that Virginia is welcoming to all, including LGBTQ individuals and families.”
“SB868 is the most comprehensive civil rights bill in Virginia’s history — not just for LGBT Virginians, but for ethnic minorities, for veterans, and people of all faiths,” Ebbin said in a statement, referring to additional protections included in the bill to prevent discrimination based on a person’s status as a veteran or pregnancy-based discrimination.
“The passage of this bill meets an urgent need in Virginia to protect our most vulnerable populations,” added Ebbin. “In Virginia, a gay person can still be married on Sunday, and legally fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday, and denied service at a restaurant that same night — until now. The passage of this bill is a message to the people of Virginia that our Commonwealth and America values and welcomes every individual for who they are.”
Even though it is a technicality, the Senate is expected to take up and pass Sickles’ nearly identical version of the Virginia Values Act — which will be amended to include business-friendly language around enforcement — in the coming days.
“Passing the Virginia Values Act is significant and means a more inclusive and stronger Virginia,” Sickles said in a statement. “I am proud of our progress towards equality and look forward to continued support for HB 1663’s final passage as well.”
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