February 28, 2016 at 12:31 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Va. Senate approves religious freedom bill

Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

The Virginia Senate on Feb. 26, 2016, approved an amended religious freedom bill that state Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate on Thursday approved a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination in the state.

House Bill 773, which state Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced, passed by a 21-19 vote margin.

State Sens. Richard Black (R-Loudoun County), Charles Carrico (R-Grayson County), A. Benton Chafin (R-Russell County), Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake), William DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico County), Thomas Garrett (R-Buckingham County), Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover County), Stephen Newman (R-Lynchburg), Thomas Norment (R-James City), Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham County), Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County), Frank Ruff (R-Mecklenburg County), William Stanley (R-Franklin County), Richard Stuart (R-Stafford County), Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond), David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County) and Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) voted for the measure.

State Sens. Kenneth Alexander (D-Norfolk), George Barker (D-Fairfax County), Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg), R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County), Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), John Edwards (D-Roanoke), Barbara Faviola (D-Arlington County), Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County), Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack County), Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), David Marsden (D-Fairfax County), A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County), Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William County), John Miller (D-Newport News), J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax City), Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax County), Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County) opposed the bill.

The Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month approved HB 773.

The measure, which critics described as “a Kim Davis inspired bill,” 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.” It also said “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 Senate approved an amended version of HB 773 that only deals with marriage.

“No person authorized to perform a marriage ceremony pursuant to Chapter 2 (§ 20-13 et seq.) of Title 20 shall be required to solemnize any marriage,” reads HB 773. “No religious organization, organization supervised or controlled by or operated in connection with a religious organization, individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of his employment, or clergy member or minister shall be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization of any marriage if the action would cause the individual or organization to violate a sincerely held religious belief.”

HB 773 also states “a refusal to solemnize a marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges…shall not give rise to civil or criminal liability or any other action by the commonwealth or a political subdivision to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions or governmental contracts, grants, or licenses, from any individual or organization.”

The Senate earlier this month approved a religious freedom bill that Carrico introduced.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pledged to veto HB 773.

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

  • I have some big concerns about this so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a bill apparently designed specifically to take revenge on Gay couples in Virginia who now have the right to marry.

    1: The people support RFRA most strenuously insist that they just want to protect the rights of people who provide wedding services such as bakeries and florists. But what legal standard will let a florist to turn away a Gay couple, but prevent a restaurant from refusing a 25th anniversary party for the same couple?

    2: It will also be interesting to see how judges and courts determine which cases of discrimination are motivated by “religious freedom,” and which are motivated by simple animus. Do we simply take the business owner’s word for it? And if the baker is an Atheist who doesn’t like Gay marriage, is he out of luck?

    3: Will this bill also allow Christians to discriminate against non-Christians? It goes without saying that there is a great deal of animosity toward Muslims among evangelical Christians. If a Christian florist, for example, refused to provide flowers for a Muslim couple’s wedding, saying that to do so would be an “endorsement” of Islam, would RFRA allow her to do so?

    It’s bad enough that a Gay Virginian can get married on Saturday, and get fired from his job the following Monday if his boss doesn’t like Gay marriage. This bill just adds insult to injury.

    • Erica Cook

      It serves one purpose and one purpose only. To make it easier for straight men to rape and kill transgender women.

  • marcus816

    Idiots. Anything to protect their precious privilege.

  • John Cross

    So, does this mean that any Virginia official can refuse to do their job on religious grounds? I have a religion that requires me to sit on the beach all day sucking beer. As soon as I get my Virginia job I will collect my salary and do nothing. Sounds great to me.

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