Virginia General Assembly Kills LGBT Bills

Nondiscrimination bill deadlocks and marriage-equality bill defeated despite bipartisan support

By John Riley
Published on January 20, 2014, 6:27pm | Comments

Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly killed pro-equality measures Monday as two top priorities for the LGBT community – repealing a state statute banning same-sex marriage, and prohibiting discrimination in state employment – were defeated in their respective committees.

In the Senate, the Committee on General Laws and Technology took up SB248, introduced by Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-City of Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Charles City counties), to prohibit discrimination in state employment. The bill was nearly identical to a similar measure that passed both the committee and the full Senate by a bipartisan 24-16 vote last year, and would essentially have made permanent an executive order prohibiting such discrimination that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued just hours after being sworn in on Jan. 11.

But a contingent of seven right-wing Republicans on the committee took advantage of the Senate's temporary makeup to defeat the bill. Normally, the Committee on General Laws, at full strength, has 15 members. But a vacancy on the committee due to the election of former Sen. Mark Herring as Attorney General left the committee with only 14 members, eight of them Republicans.

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier, Stafford, Culpeper, Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun counties; City of Winchester), a supporter of the bill last year, voted with the six remaining Democrats on the committee to move the bill out of committee for a vote by the full Senate. The measure deadlocked, 7-7, effectively killing it.

The state's top pro-LGBT civil rights organization, Equality Virginia, blasted the seven senators on the committee who killed the bill.

''Today, Senators Ruff, Stosch, Martin, Stuart, Black, Reeves and Garrett stood in the path to progress and equality by killing a bill that passed the Senate last year with clear bipartisan support,'' James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. ''These senators refuse to acknowledge what the Virginia public and business community have long understood: protecting LGBT employees is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense and will contribute to the overall success of the commonwealth.''

''SB248 would have protected all state employees from workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,'' Parrish continued. ''Despite today's temporary setback, Executive Order One, signed by Governor McAuliffe, will protect the state's LGBT employees while he remains in office. Equality Virginia and our coalition partners will continue to work to codify Executive Order One to protect state LGBT employees from discrimination.''

In a brief follow-up, Parrish said that if Democrats had occupied the same number of seats on the committee as they did last year when the bill was brought up, combined with Vogel's vote in favor, the bill would have passed out of committee and would have found enough bipartisan support to pass the full upper chamber.

''This ignores the governor's executive order and what the Senate did last year,'' he said.

The House measure, HB939, introduced by Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax Co.), would have repealed a Virginia state statute banning same-sex marriage. Notably, it would not have repealed the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution that voters approved in 2006, but only the underlying law prohibiting marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other instruments that recognize same-sex relationships.

HB939 was assigned to the House Committee on Courts of Justice, from which Chairman David Albo (R-Fairfax Co.) assigned it to the 10-member subcommittee on civil law. The measure failed on a 5-4 vote, despite support from Del. Greg Habeeb (R-Salem, Roanoke, Montgomery, Craig counties) and Del. Manoli Loupassi (R-City of Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield counties), who voted in favor of continuing the discussion by allowing the full committee to consider the bill. Also voting in favor were House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville, Albemarle Co.) and Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax Co.), according to tweets from Surovell's official Twitter account.

Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-City of Richmond, Henrico Co.) was absent. Had she been present to vote in favor, the measure would have deadlocked anyway. Six votes are needed to pass a bill out of subcommittee.

Voting against the bill were Delegates Randy Minchew (R-Loudoun, Clarke, Fredrick counties); Terry Kilgore (R- City of Norton, Lee, Scott, Wise counties); and three House freshmen: A. Benton ''Ben'' Chafin (R-Dickenson, Russell, Washington, Wise counties); James Leftwich, Jr. (R-Chesapeake) and Jeff Campbell (R-Carroll, Smyth, Wythe counties).

Parrish told Metro Weekly that Equality Virginia was disappointed that the House will not recognize that marriage equality is going to eventually be law in Virginia, and that the House does not support revisiting the measure in order to allow Virginia's voters to decide whether the law should be overturned.

''It's just another example of conservatives in the House of Delegates not representing the views of Virginia's voters,'' he said.

Besides Surovell's bill dealing with the statutory ban on same-sex marriage, there were seven other bills introduced – five in the House and two in the Senate – that seek to repeal the constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships. But at the beginning of session, Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg; Stafford, Fauquier, Spotsylvania counties), chairman of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, has said his committee will not be considering any action on constitutional amendments during the 2014 session, although no action has been taken yet on the bills. The two Senate bills were unanimously continued and will be brought up for consideration during the 2015 legislative session.

Parish said that the one good thing about the continuation of the Senate bills to 2015 means that his organization has another year, and some extra time, to build support for those measures.