VA lawmakers invited to “check a box”

Well-run businesses don’t discriminate against their employees on the basis of irrelevant characteristics. That’s why former Governor Mark Warner signed an executive order at the end of his term in 2005, prohibiting discrimination in state hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. In addition, the Governor added similar language to that year’s budget, language that was later stripped by the General Assembly.

According to a statement from his spokesperson,

Warner’s decision to make the change was prompted by the number of lawmakers who have signed their own nondiscrimination pledges at the request of Equality Virginia [Ed. note – along with Virginia Partisans and Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia]. She also said eight of the 10 largest private companies in Virginia have similar policies, indicating that the state is ready for the change.

Not everyone agreed. At the request of Delegate Bob Marshall (who has elsewhere described himself as “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe”), Attorney General Bob McDonnell issued an opinion making the following curious claims: 1) That the Governor had no authority to amend previous Governors’ executive orders; and 2) That the budget language was “unnecessary” due to the fact that the discrimination was already prohibited by the executive order….the executive order that he purportedly didn’t have the authority to sign. *Cough.* Alrighty, then.

Equality Virginia Executive Director Dyana Mason made this observation at the time:

Now that McDonnell has removed the primary excuse given for the failure to act ““ that it was not necessary to do so ““ we will be looking to the legislature to make it clear what the state’s policy is. If the members of the General Assembly refuse to make an affirmative statement, one must only assume that they think it’s appropriate to discriminate.

Indeed, one must. In the intervening years, Governor Kaine has signed the same executive order, and legislation has been introduced that would codify the non-discrimination policy – again, the same policy that a majority of legislators have pledged to follow in their own offices – into law. This year is no different, with the introduction of HB 1493: Nondiscrimination; prohibits discrimination in state government employment based on race, etc. Note that protection from state employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran covered by the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974” currently also exists at the whim of executive order. None of these protections are yet permanently codified in Virginia law.

According to HB 1493’s chief patron, Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington), lobbyists from the Some Families Foundation have been telling people that “the legislation would require potential state employees ‘to check a box’ to state their sexual orientation.”

Now, we haven’t heard that these lobbyists are telling anyone that applicants would be required to “check a box” disclosing their religion, race, marital status, medical condition relating to childbirth, or any of the other categories specified by the bill. Because apparently, that would just be silly.

What we have heard is that the bill is still languishing in the House Courts of Justice Committee. Surely the members of this committee are not planning to check the box that says “I like discrimination.” Are they?

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