By Megan Schiffres
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vowed to veto any bill that discriminates against LGBTQ people at a reception hosted Tuesday night by Equality Virginia. McAuliffe has vetoed 71 bills during his two years as governor, none of which have been overturned.
“It’s not about doing the most vetoes of any governor in Virginia history,” McAuliffe said. “We’re stopping people from doing things that discriminate against people’s basic rights.”
The governor said he had slated another 35 bills for veto this session.
“They’ve slipped a few bills through, but they’re not going to slip through the governor’s office. I’m going to veto them,” said McAuliffe, a Democrat in the final year of his term.
Democrats criticized Republicans for approving SB 1324, which passed the Senate on a 21-19 party-line vote Tuesday.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson. Supporters describe it as a religious freedom bill, saying it would protect people and organizations that oppose same-sex marriages. However, Democrats say the measure would give people and organizations the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.
“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has absolutely no place in the commonwealth, and I am disappointed that a Republican-majority in the Senate approved SB 1324 today,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year.
“I recently took a seven-city tour across the commonwealth that ended in Salem, where I was proud to welcome the NCAA soccer tournament. That championship was relocated from North Carolina, as was the NBA All-Star game and major businesses. To be economically competitive, we have to be open and welcoming to all. I will continue to advocate for equality for all.”
Clay Xix attended the Equality Virginia reception as a representative of Access AIDS Care and the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads. Earlier during Equality Virginia’s annual Day of Action, Xix tried to persuade legislators to oppose SB 1324 and a companion bill, HB 2025, sponsored by Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper.
“It’s our people who have been constantly discriminated against time and again – barred access to jobs, one wrong hand motion in an interview and you’re out, one ‘hey, girl, hey’ in the office and you’re fired. I mean, this is what we live with,” Xix said.
Twenty-seven members of the Virginia General Assembly attended the reception, including Del. Mark Levine, D-Fairfax, whose bill prohibiting LGBT discrimination in public employment, public accommodations and housing (HB 2129) was recently defeated in the House. This was the second year in a row Levine has proposed the legislation, and he says it won’t be the last.
“I think it’s really important for the people I represent to know I’m out there fighting even when it’s not going to succeed, because if you give up before you try, you never succeed,” Levine said.
As one of two openly gay men in the General Assembly, Levine said such bills are important even when they fail because they can change the way LGBT people are thought of and treated.
“It’s not just about the rare lawsuit,” Levine said. “It’s about having people be confident enough that if they do choose to come out, they’re not going to be kicked out in the street, they’re not going to lose their employment, they’re not going to lose their job.”
Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the other openly gay Virginia delegate, also proposed pro-LGBT legislation this session that was defeated in committee. HB 1395 would have repealed the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions in the Code of Virginia, and given the public the opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage in 2018.
Even though the laws Sickles is trying to repeal are no longer valid after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, his bill was defeated by the House Courts of Justice Committee.
“The only way we’re going to get fair treatment, gay and lesbian people, is to let the people speak out. And it’s not going to be through this gerrymandering system that we have here. The system is rigged – it truly is,” Sickles said.