February 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Anti-discrimination, religious freedom bills advance in Va.

Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

The Virginia State House in Richmond, Va. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia lawmakers in recent days have approved three LGBT-specific bills.

The Virginia Senate on Jan. 27 approved state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County)’s Senate Bill 822, which would add LGBT-specific protections to the Virginia Fair Housing Law, by a 25-14 vote margin. Senators on the same day approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 783, which would ban discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, by a 25-14 vote margin.

The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus congratulated Ebbin for “getting SB783 passed.”

Both SB 783 and SB 822 have been referred to the Virginia House of Delegates’ General Laws Committee.

The committee on Jan. 26 approved a vaguely worded religious freedom bill by a 14-8 vote margin.

House Bill 2025, which state Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) introduced, would prohibit the state from punishing anyone who refuses to officiate a same-sex marriage if it violates their religious beliefs. Equality Virginia is among the LGBT advocacy groups that oppose the Culpeper Republican’s measure.

“The right to practice one’s own religion is already firmly protected in the U.S. Constitution,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement after the committee approved HB 2025. “In truth, this legislation has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

“Virginia lawmakers should look closely at the fallout in North Carolina and the state’s deeply discriminatory HB2 law before plowing down a similarly destructive path,” she added.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill in 2016. The Senate failed to override the governor’s veto.

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

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