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Virginia's Warner
gives gays protection in state hiring

Virginia's Warner
gives gays protection in state hiring

As gay rights activists praised a new Virginia policy that for the first time bars state agencies from discriminating against gays in hiring and promotions, conservatives were promising a good fight in 2006. Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat who is considering a run for president in 2008, made the change Friday by placing it in his new budget and by amending an executive order. The policy went into effect immediately. Governor-elect Timothy M. Kaine, also a Democrat, plans to maintain the change when he is inaugurated January 14. Kaine "believes that policies that include principles of tolerance and diversity are what make our commonwealth as strong as it is," Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for the governor-elect, told The Washington Post. But several lawmakers and activists were already promising to thwart the change. The general assembly could pass legislation blocking the order. And if Kaine vetoes the legislation, it would take two thirds of state legislators to override it. Conservatives criticized Warner for the policy as well as the way he instituted it: quietly and at the end of his term. "Instead of publicly standing in front of the cameras and microphones, he sneaks it in during the last days of his administration," said Chris Freund, communications director for the Family Foundation. "He has clearly chosen to leave a legacy that includes the very social issues he says he doesn't want to deal with." The governor's office did, in fact, note that the budget included language banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was included in a press release Friday afternoon. Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said gay state employees now have the right to challenge hiring and firing decisions made based on their sexual orientation. The governor supported the change, she said, after he learned that 60% of state lawmakers have promised similar protections in their own hiring. "It was a powerful message to him that even what has been considered a traditionally conservative statehouse is ready for this change," Qualls said. Warner added "sexual orientation" to the nondiscrimination language in the $72 billion budget he offered to lawmakers Friday. If the budget is passed with that language, the change would be inserted in Virginia code, making it more permanent, Qualls said. Because the governor placed the measure in the budget, he also amended the executive order. Republican delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter said his colleagues on the house committee that will review the budget will likely remove the sexual orientation language from the budget. "My guess is that we'll strike it out and that there will be a fairly lively discussion about all of this," Lingamfelter said. "If the advocates of that language want to advocate that view, then my guess is that they are going have to find a bill to do it." The new policy was cheered by gay rights activists who say Virginia now joins other state and local governments as well as businesses in banning discrimination against gays. "It's bringing Virginia in line with the majority of other states that have these laws on the books," said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group. Still, others have taken extra steps. Maryland and the District of Columbia, for instance, have laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private hiring. Mason also noted that state legislators are expected to pass a resolution in the next session calling for an amendment against same-sex marriages. "It's still going to be a tough year," she said. (AP)

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