Monday, January 31, 2011

Virginia Pushing Forward with Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Richmond Times-Dispatch (Va.) (1/26)
By Jim Nolan

Democratic lawmakers Tuesday announced support for bills that would make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Virginia's state work force and in the Virginia National Guard.

Lawmakers also pushed for legislation that would strengthen anti-bullying laws regarding Virginia schools, allow local governments to set their own benefits policies for employees and repeal a 2006 amendment to the Virginia Constitution that forbids same-sex marriages.

Similar legislation has failed in past General Assembly sessions, but lawmakers said there is growing bipartisan support for legislation this time around to give equal protection under the law and in public employment to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians.

"It's simply the right thing to do," said Del. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, the sponsor of House Bill 2046, which would add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes upon which the state cannot discriminate in employment. Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico is sponsoring companion legislation, Senate Bill 747.

Last year, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion saying public colleges and universities could not include sexual-orientation bias in their nondiscrimination policies because it was not specifically authorized in state law.

Despite having issued an opinion similar to Cuccinelli's during his own tenure as attorney general, Gov. Bob McDonnell reacted to the ensuing uproar by issuing an executive directive — a declaration lacking the force of law — that forbade discrimination in the state work force for any reason.

"We need to get this in the code for all time," said Ebbin, the only openly gay member of the legislature, noting that it "makes good business sense" and that Virginia's top 10 employers have nondiscrimination policies that protect gays.

Joining lawmakers was Anthony Woods, an openly gay Army captain who served two tours in Iraq before his discharge from the military in 2008 for refusing to keep his sexual orientation a secret under the since-repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

"On the battlefield, sexual orientation does not matter one bit," said Woods, a West Point graduate who received the Bronze Star for his service. He was present to support House Bill 2345, sponsored by Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, prohibiting discrimination in the Virginia National Guard.

Lawmakers cited support from GOP counterparts such as Del. Thomas Davis Rust, R-Fairfax — whose House Bill 1964 would prohibit discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation — as evidence that times could be changing.

The bills come up for consideration this week.

The Rev. Robin Gorsline of the Metropolitan Community Church in Richmond said, "Make respect the law of Virginia."

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