June July 2016
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Virginia House OK's Anti-LGBT 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Todd Gilbert
Todd Gilbert

The Virginia House of Delegates this week approved a broad “religious freedom” bill that would prevent the state from penalizing businesses and individuals who cite faith-based grounds for discriminating against same-sex couples, transgender people, and people who have sex outside of marriage.

The Republican-controlled House passed the bill Tuesday by a vote of 53-46, and it now goes to the Senate, the Associated Press reports. But it is unlikely to become law: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has pledged to veto the measure, and it doesn’t appear to have enough legislative support to override that.

The bill’s sponsor said it is necessary to protect people with strong religious beliefs. “The activists who pursue same-sex marriage ... are not satisfied with equality and they will not be satisfied until people of faith are driven out of this discourse, are made to cower, are made to be in fear of speaking their minds,” said the bill's sponsor, Republican Del. Todd Gilbert, according to the AP. “They want us driven out.”

“Gilbert said his bill, for example, would ensure that the state can’t withhold tuition-assistance grants from private religious universities that prohibit students from living together outside of marriage,” the AP notes. “It would also prohibit the state from revoking the liquor license of a restaurant that requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex, he said.”

House Democrats, who largely opposed the bill and were joined by some Republicans, pointed out the need for equal treatment of all people. And Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said that if the bill becomes law, a court would likely strike it down on constitutional grounds. “You can’t get much more unconstitutional than that,” she told the AP.

The measure is one of several anti-LGBT bills currently moving through state legislatures. A Senate committee in Georgia advanced a similar bill to the full Senate this week, the West Virginia House of Delegates likewise approved a “religious objections” bill last week, and in South Dakota, an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” awaits the governor’s signature (or veto) while other anti-trans measures advance through that state's legislature.

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