February 16, 2017 at 5:29 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Va. Senate approves religious freedom bill

Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

The Virginia Senate on Feb. 16, 2017, approved a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow discrimination against same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate on Thursday approved a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow discrimination against same-sex couples.

Senators approved House Bill 2025 by a 21-19 vote margin.

State Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) introduced HB 2025.

The measure would not require any person, religious organization or affiliate to “participate in the solemnization of any marriage” if it conflicts with “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” HB 2025 would also prohibit Virginia officials from punishing those who refuse to take part in a gay or lesbian wedding because of their religious beliefs.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Feb. 13, 2014, struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. Carol Schall and Mary Townley, one of the plaintiff couples in the Bostic case that brought marriage rights to same-sex couples to the commonwealth, on Tuesday attended a Richmond press conference at which they, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and others celebrated the third anniversary of Allen’s ruling.

“Earlier this week I stood alongside plaintiffs Carol Schall and Mary Townley to celebrate the anniversary of the historic Bostic v. Rainey decision that struck down Virginia’s statutory and constitutional same-sex marriage ban,” said Northam on Thursday in a statement his office released after the state Senate approved HB 2025. “We cannot go backwards. We need to continue to be open and welcoming to all, no matter who you are or who you love.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a religious freedom bill last year that was similar to HB 2025. The state Senate failed to override his veto.

“We are of course disappointed to see HB 2025 narrowly pass the Senate today,” James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “If this unnecessary bill becomes law, it would give a license to discriminate against loving lesbian and gay couples. We’re grateful that Gov. McAuliffe has vowed to veto this and any another anti-LGBT legislation that comes to his desk.”

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

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