November 19, 2020 at 2:21 pm EST | by Parker Purifoy
Mark Herring defends Va. nondiscrimination law in court
Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Obergefell v. Hodges, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring continues to defend a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Herring on Tuesday filed an opposition to the preliminary injunction and a memo in support of a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a wedding photographer who says the Virginia Values Act violates his First Amendment rights. 

“We are all Virginians and we all deserve to live in this commonwealth without the fear of being discriminated against because of what we look like, who we love, where we come from, or how we worship,” Herring said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to defend the Virginia Values Act and make sure that it continues to protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community.”

The Virginia Values Act went into effect on July 1 and prohibits anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations and access to credit. It was the first Southern state to adopt these types of protections for the LGBTQ community. Violations could be met with fines of up to $50,000.

The lawsuit, filed in September by Loudoun County wedding photographer Bob Updegrove, argues the law forces him to photograph same-sex weddings, even though he is opposed to marriage equality because of his faith. 

Jonathan Scruggs, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal organization representing plaintiffs in two lawsuits against the law, claims it places the photographer in an impossible position between promoting “views against their faith” and violating the law.

“The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions,” Scruggs said in a statement posted to the Alliance Defending Freedom’s website. 

In his filing, Herring stressed the importance of the law for protecting LGBTQ Virginians, citing a national survey that states one in four LGBTQ has experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation

“Anti-discrimination laws have been adopted and implemented at both the state and federal levels without running afoul of the constitutional guarantee of free speech,” Herring said in the filing. “The Virginia Values Act prohibits specific discriminatory acts but has nothing to say about any particular message or expression. In other words … the Act regulates conduct not speech; it does not compel the plaintiff to engage in speech with which he disagrees; and it is content neutral.”

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