Legislators Unveil Equality Plan
Bills would end state employment discrimination, enable same-sex partners of certain public employees to access benefits, and repeal the Marshall-Newman marriage ban
RICHMOND, VA — At a press conference today, Democratic Senator Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) and Senator Adam Ebbin (D – Alexandria) unveiled legislation designed to prevent discrimination, ensure that all Virginians are equal before the law, and enhance Virginia’s status as a great state to do business. The Senators are committed to advancing other bills that advance these principles as well.
The Senators were joined by Delegate Patrick Hope (D – Arlington) who announced a bill to ban conversion therapy, James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, and Rev. Robin Gorsline, president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV).
Senator Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) announced SB 248, which would build on Gov. McAuliffe’s Executive Order 1 by permanently codifying the prohibition on state employment discrimination and SB 252, which would allow public colleges, universities, and localities to extend benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners.
Said Sen. McEachin, “Discrimination is wrong, and we should be doing more to prevent it. Twenty-one states have banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Virginia still has no statute on the books. If we want to compete, we have to keep up. By working to prevent discrimination — and by expanding access to partner benefits — we can keep Virginia an attractive place to raise a family or grow a business.”
Senator Adam Ebbin (D – Alexandria) announced SJ 1, which would repeal the Marshall-Newman amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“Virginians are ready to repeal the Marshall-Newman amendment,” said Senator Ebbin. “This unfair and discriminatory law denies loving couples the chance to build a life together, throwing up burdens that straight couples never have to face. People deserve to be judged by their actions, and laws that deny people fundamental rights because of their sexual orientation should have no place in Virginia. We have lost and will continue to lose hard-working citizens to other states.”
Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) announced that he will be introducing a bill which would ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors.
“Conversion therapy is based on the false assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or a sin. Well it is not,” Delegate Hope said. “The potential risks of conversion therapy are great, including depression, anxiety, suicide, and other self-destructive behavior. Our children should not be subjected to these risks and government has a role to protect them from this practice."
“The majority of Virginians believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals should have the right to work for the government without facing discrimination,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, and when it comes to marriage, they believe that gay and lesbian couples should have the freedom to marry here in the commonwealth.”
“Every single Virginian, every single American, every single citizen of the world is a child of God,” added Rev. Robin Gorsline, president of POFEV. “And what I see God making possible is a vast movement building momentum all across the country, including in Virginia, pulling together for the full equality of all. This part of the movement will continue, especially if people of faith work together to carry the cause.”
In Virginia, a recent poll found that 56% of likely voters oppose the state’s same-sex marriage ban; only 36% were supportive.[iii] Support for marriage equality has grown over time, both nationally[iv] and in Virginia,[v] and aggregate polling suggests that a clear majority of Americans are now in favor.[vi]
Voters have already repealed gay marriage bans at the ballot box in Maine, Maryland, and Washington,[vii] and there is no reason to think that Virginians would not do the same. SJ 1 seeks to give them that opportunity.
Gov. McAuliffe’s Executive Order No. 1 prohibits state employment discrimination against gay and lesbian Virginians, but future governors are free to overturn that prohibition. Passing legislation is the only way to end employment discrimination once and for all.
Twenty-one states already have such laws on the books, as do many localities.[viii] Virginia also lags the private sector; twenty of Virginia’s twenty-five largest employers already prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as do 88% of Fortune 500 companies. [ix]
87% of Virginians believe gay and lesbian employees should be protected from workplace discrimination; [x] SB 248 would conform state law with their wishes, making Virginia a fairer place that is more attractive to both businesses and families.
Equal Access to Benefits
In Virginia, the same-sex partners of college and university professors are unable to access benefits. In many other states, however, benefits are accessible — meaning that these places have a competitive edge when it comes to attracting the best teachers and researchers.[xi]
Virginia colleges and universities have already lost faculty members to institutions in these states precisely because of this difference,[xii] and the discrepancy creates a disincentive for new talent to move here.
SB 252 seeks to end this discrepancy by allowing localities and public colleges and universities to offer benefits.