The Republican-controlled chamber approved House Bill 773 by a 56-41 vote margin.
State Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced the measure, which is also known as the Government Nondiscrimination Act, last month.
HB 773 would prohibit government entities from taking “any discriminatory action against a person, in whole or in part, on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance 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.” The measure also includes “the male sex and the term ‘man’ and the female sex and the term ‘woman’ refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics of the individual at the time of birth.”
The Virginia House Democratic Caucus in a press release described HB 773 as “a Kim Davis inspired bill,” referring to the Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Giving preference to one person’s religious beliefs over those of another is offensive and promotes inequality,” said state Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) in the Virginia House Democratic Caucus press release. “Ensuring that all Virginians are equal in the eyes of the law should be the goal of the General Assembly. Granting a free pass to discriminate is simply wrong.”
State Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) also criticized HB 773’s passage.
“This legislation gives state approval to discriminate against others,” said the Roanoke Democrat in a statement.
Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, praised HB 773.
“The Government Non-Discrimination Act (GNDA) balances the new found right to whatever definition of marriage you want with our nation’s longstanding principle of religious free exercise by ensuring that the heavy hand of government cannot penalize a person or religious charity because of his or her beliefs about marriage and human sexuality,” she said in a statement. “Charitable religious organizations should be treated fairly, not targeted and punished by the government because of their beliefs about marriage. The faith that inspires their charitable service shouldn’t be used by the government to discriminate against them.”
The Virginia Senate will consider HB 773 later this month.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said he would veto the measure if it were to reach his desk.
“The governor opposes any legislation that will make Virginia less open and welcoming to people based on their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation,” McAuliffe spokesperson Brian Coy told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “He’s working to build a more equal and more prosperous Virginia and this bill is a step in the wrong direction.”