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)