Virginia LGBT rights supporters are hoping pending legislation will address a hole in the recent workplace protections order issued by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell — although they aren’t optimistic about the bill’s prospects.
On Feb. 5, McDonnell issued an executive order barring bias against state workers on the basis of “race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities.” The order also protects veterans.
But one glaring omission from the order is sexual orientation. Former Democratic Govs. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine included protections for gays as part of similar executive orders they issued during their tenures in the governor’s mansion.
McDonnell’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why protections for gay workers were omitted from the order.
The lack of protections based on sexual orientation in McDonnell’s order didn’t come as a surprise to many gay Virginians. During his campaign, McDonnell said he wouldn’t renew the protections because he believed they were unconstitutional. He cited the Virginia General Assembly’s failure to pass legislation that would have made the protections permanent as part of his rationale for the omission.
McDonnell said during his campaign that he doesn’t believe the government should discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but he never specified how he would protect gay state workers from such bias.
David Lampo, vice president of the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans, said “we can only assume” that McDonnell didn’t include gays in his order because “it’s a sincere belief” that such protections are unconstitutional.
But Lampo said if McDonnell is committed to non-discrimination against gays, as he stated during his campaign, the governor should push for legislation that would provide protections in lieu of administrative action.
“[Senate Bill] 66 was passed by the Senate and has come over to the House, and will be voted on in the House at some point of the next week or two,” he said. “So what we want him to do is either to endorse that bill or say that he’ll sign it if comes before him.”
Terry Mansberger, president of the Virginia Partisans, a LGBT Democratic group, also said McDonnell’s failure to include the protections as part of his order means the governor should push for passage of legislation.
“If you won’t put it in there because you believe it should be in the code, well then, step up and make it part of Virginia law like most of the other states have done and bring Virginia into modern times,” Mansberger said.
The legislation passed earlier this month by the Virginia Senate and sponsored by Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) is pending in the House. A similar version of the legislation introduced by Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the only openly gay lawmaker in the Virginia General Assembly, was killed earlier this month in subcommittee.
Although the bill passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Ebbin said he’s not optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House.
“It’s a great challenge since my version has failed, but never say never,” he said. “I’m not optimistic that it’ll pass, but the fact it’s passed the full Senate is notable.”
Ebbin said he envisions passage of the legislation as a multi-year effort and that advocates need to press ahead toward the goal despite setbacks to succeed.