January 6, 2016 at 2:08 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Va., Md. lawmakers to consider several LGBT bills in 2016
A. Donald McEachin, Henrico County, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County), along with state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has reintroduced a bill that would codify a ban on anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland will consider several LGBT-specific bills once their respective 2016 legislative sessions begin on Jan. 13.

State Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) have introduced resolutions in the Virginia Senate that seek to repeal Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. State Del. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) has put forth a similar proposal in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“The provisions of this section of the constitution of Virginia are no longer valid as a result of the United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges,” reads a summary of Ebbin’s resolution that is posted to the Virginia General Assembly’s website.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Virginia since October 2014.

Ebbin last month introduced Senate Bill 10, which would repeal the commonwealth’s statutory ban on marriage and civil unions for gays and lesbians.

The gay Alexandria Democrat and McEachin have also put forth Senate Bill 12, which would codify into law Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order banning discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. State Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) has introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s Fair Housing Law.

Lawmakers last year killed similar anti-discrimination measures.

Gay state Del.-Elect Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) told the Washington Blade that he plans to put forth a measure that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in the commonwealth.

Levine said during a Jan. 2 interview that his measure is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, agrees.

“Equality Virginia would agree with Del.-elect Levine’s assessment that it would be dead on arrival in the House of Delegates,” Parrish told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview. “We welcome him and others to join the work in building coalitions.”

State Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Galax) last month introduced Senate Bills 40 and 41 that would allow officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs. A spokesperson for McAuliffe told the Blade that he would veto both measures if they were to reach his desk.

Parrish said that Equality Virginia is “preparing to fight” any religious freedom bills that House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford County) and other conservative Republicans said they would introduce in response to last June’s ruling in the Obergefell case.

The Liberty Counsel last month filed a lawsuit that challenges the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Fairfax County School District’s anti-discrimination policy.

Members of the Stafford County School Board last March voted unanimously to prevent a transgender student from using the girls’ restroom at her elementary school. The Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBT legal group, in November filed a brief on behalf of the Family Foundation of Virginia with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond against Gavin Grimm, a trans student who is challenging a Gloucester County School District policy that prevents him from using the boys’ restroom and locker room.

“We still have our eyes out for a couple of more anti-LGBT bills,” Parrish told the Blade, referring to Stafford and Fairfax Counties and the Grimm case.

Parrish said he also expects lawmakers will once again consider a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” to minors in Virginia.

Baltimore County Republican introduces religious freedom bill

Maryland state Del. Richard Metzgar (R-Baltimore County) has introduced House Bill 16, which would allow officials to refuse to perform “any particular or religious rite of any marriage” that violates their religious belief.

Patrick Paschall, executive director of FreeState Legal, on Tuesday described the measure as “a complete waste of the legislature’s time.” He told the Blade that HB 16 mirrors the religious freedom provisions in the state’s same-sex marriage law that voters approved in 2012.

“[HB 16] is the same language that is already part of Maryland law,” said Paschall.

A spokesperson for Gov. Larry Hogan told the Blade last month that the Republican would not “take a position” on HB 16 until it goes through the legislative process.

Paschall and other Maryland advocacy groups also oppose a proposal that would allow the state to give tax credits of up to $200,000 to corporations that direct contributions to private schools. These institutions are not subject to Maryland and federal anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Hogan last year proposed the measure, and is expected to do so again in the 2016 legislative session.

“It continues to be a bad idea,” Paschall told the Blade. “We don’t think it is appropriate for taxpayer dollars to subsidize corporate contributions to private schools. This bill creates a mechanism to effectively funnel public funding to private schools. If private schools want to receive public funding, they should be required not to discriminate against LGBTQ students and teachers just like other publicly funded schools.”

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer told the Blade on Monday that her organization will focus on working to “ensure” the 2015 law that allows transgender and intersex people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates without surgery is “being implemented.”

She stressed this effort will focus particularly on health care.

“There are no LGBT issues in Maryland that could function as a lightning rod, which is another sign of progress,” said Beyer, referring to the upcoming legislative session.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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