March 23, 2017 at 2:35 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
McAuliffe vetoes religious freedom bill

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on March 23, 2017, vetoed a religious freedom bill that critics maintain would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday vetoed a bill that critics contend would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples.

Senate Bill 1324, which state Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Galax) introduced, would not require any person or religious institution 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.” The measure would also prohibit state officials from punishing people and organizations that refuse to take part in a gay or lesbian wedding because of their religious beliefs.

State Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) introduced an identical bill in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“This is another piece of legislation that is discriminatory,” said McAuliffe after he announced his plan to veto SB 1324 on WTOP.

McAuliffe also noted North Carolina’s House Bill 2 — which bans transgender people from using public restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity and prohibits municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures — and the economic impact it has had on the Tarheel State.

“We’re not going to do it,” he told WTOP.

McAuliffe vetoed SB 1324 less than two weeks before he is scheduled to speak at Equality Virginia’s annual Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond.

“Equality Virginia applauds Governor McAuliffe for fulfilling his promise to veto this discriminatory and destructive bill,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish in a statement.

“We recognize that religion is a vital part of many Virginians’ daily lives, but HB 2025 does not protect religious liberty,” he added. “Instead, it provides a license to discriminate against loving LGBTQ families; furthermore, its broad and vague definition of ‘person’ would set a dangerous precedent for discriminatory individuals and groups to be protected by our religious freedom laws.”

“Governor Terry McAuliffe continues to solidify his place in history as a stalwart champion of fairness and equality,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “In truth, this vile legislation had nothing to do with protecting the right to practice one’s religion and everything to do with enshrining taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ people into state law.”

The Family Foundation of Virginia criticized McAuliffe.

“Once again, Governor McAuliffe sided with the radical LGBT lobby and the ACLU in claiming that protecting the faiths of countless churches, religious schools and religious organizations amounts to discrimination,” it wrote on its website.

The Virginia Senate in 2016 failed to override McAuliffe’s veto of a similar bill.

“By vetoing this discriminatory legislation, Governor McAuliffe has sent a powerful and inclusive message that Virginia is welcoming and open for business to all,” said Winterhof. “We urge the Virginia Legislature to uphold this decision.”

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

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