March 1, 2017 at 11:52 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Va. legislative session proves a mixed bag for activists

Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session ended on Feb. 25, 2017.

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session that ended on Feb. 25 was a mixed bag for LGBT rights advocates.

The Virginia House of Delegates last month gave final approval to a bill that Equality Virginia and other critics contend would allow discrimination against same-sex couples.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 2025 — which would not require any person, religious organization or affiliates to “participate in the solemnization of any marriage” that 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” — by a 54-38 vote margin. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pledged to veto state Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper)’s measure that would also prohibit Virginia officials from punishing those who refuse to take part in a gay or lesbian wedding because of their religious beliefs.

“HB 2025 is nothing more than a thinly veiled legislative assault on LGBTQ Virginians and visitors to the state,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a statement after HB 2025 passed.

The Virginia Senate in January approved two bills that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees and add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Virginia Fair Housing Law. The measures, which state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County) introduced, later died in House subcommittees.

Members of the House Courts of Justice and Senate Courts of Justice Committees tabled bills state Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) and Ebbin introduced that would have repealed state laws banning marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee referred Ebbin’s proposed resolution that would have prompted the process of repealing Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman to the state’s Code Commission. A House subcommittee tabled a similar resolution that Sickles proposed.

A House subcommittee rejected state Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria)’s bill that would have banned discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee tabled state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington County)’s bill that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s hate crimes law.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that more Senate Republicans supported the non-discrimination bills this year than in previous legislative sessions, even though they later died in the House.

“We continue to increase our support in the Senate,” he said.

Ebbin made the same observation.

“[It] is an indication [the Senate] is steadfast in its support for nondiscrimination legislation,” he told the Blade. “The House is another story. That’s where the stumbling block lies.”

Lawmakers reject Marshall’s anti-LGBT bills

Members of the Republican-controlled House General Laws Subcommittee killed state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County)’s bill that would have banned transgender people from using public restrooms based on their gender identity. Another House subcommittee tabled the Prince William County Republican’s measure that would have banned state agencies and other “public bodies from requiring any contractor entering into a public contract to agree to additional nondiscrimination provisions with respect to gender identity or sexual orientation.”

A House subcommittee tabled Marshall’s House Bill 2011, which would have prevented school boards from adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination policies. Lawmakers also tabled his proposed resolution that would have allowed the speaker of the House to “employ legal counsel to represent the General Assembly in instituting legal action against any federal authority if the federal authority unconstitutionally violates the sovereign rights of the commonwealth, its agencies or local governments or their agencies.”

Danica Roem, a trans journalist who is running against Marshall, told the Blade on Tuesday the General Assembly “is at a stalemate and is sending conflicting signals on whether it should be lawful to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, commerce and marriage.” She also criticized her opponent for introducing four anti-LGBT bills that lawmakers failed to advance.

“What is clear though is that the discriminatory social legislation introduced by Del. Bob Marshall is so bad for Virginia, his own party killed all four of his anti-LGBTQ bills,” said Roem.

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade

Danica Roem is a transgender journalist who is challenging Virginia state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) (Photo courtesy of Danica Roem)

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

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