January 13, 2015 at 11:25 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
McAuliffe vows to veto ‘conscience clause’ bill

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday said he would veto “in a nanosecond” a bill that would allow state licensed and accredited business owners to refuse service to someone based on their religious beliefs. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday said he would veto “in a nanosecond” a bill that would allow state licensed or accredited business owners to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs.

The comment against House Bill 1414 came in response to a question at a Richmond press conference during which the governor discussed what he described as his “equal opportunity” legislative agenda for the 2015 General Assembly that begins on Wednesday.

“In a new Virginia economy, we need to be able to attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs here, build a workforce for the 21st century, and ensure that the next generation of Virginians has greater opportunity to succeed,” said McAuliffe. “All that depends on having a business-friendly environment where every Virginian is treated equally and fairly under the law, no matter their background, gender or whom they love.”

Equality Virginia and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia are among the groups that have sharply criticized HB 1414 that state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) introduced last month.

The so-called “conscience clause” measure specifically cites “same-sex ‘marriage’ or homosexual behavior.’”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Washington Blade his organization was “very pleased to hear” McAuliffe’s comments.

“We are extremely grateful to have a strong governor who will not allow members of the LGBT community to be discriminated against in the state of Virginia,” said Carl Johansen, president of Hampton Roads Business Outreach.

Marshall on Tuesday defended his bill.

“So, Terry McAuliffe wants all lawyers, school counselors, psychologists, adoption agencies, social workers, doctors, teachers, pastors, psychiatrists and other licensed professionals to toe the line on the governor’s gay agenda, or they will not be licensed to practice their profession?” he told the Blade. “He has set the foundation to force the equivalent of a religious test on practicing a profession in Virginia.”

“McAuliffe’s iron-fisted intolerance is a police state tactic,” added the Prince William County Republican.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the commonwealth since October.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) are among those who have introduced bills that would seek a repeal Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Ebbin is also expected to put forth a measure that would change gender-specific references in the state’s marriage laws and regulations to “spouse.”

The first executive order that McAuliffe issued upon taking office last January banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) and state Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) have reintroduced bills that would ban discrimination against public employees in state and local governments and in housing based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) has put forth a proposal that would extend second-parent adoption rights to same-sex couples in the commonwealth.

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

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