Yesterday, Americans United and allies sent a letter to Virginia's Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology to warn of the real harm that HB 2025, a state combo Pastor Protection Act and First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), could inflict on many Virginians. The bill, as written, could allow individuals, for-profit corporations, and even taxpayer-funded organizations use religious beliefs about marriage as an excuse to discriminate against their neighbors.
At first glance, this bill may seem innocuous, after all, it ensures that members of the clergy can’t be required to participate in the solemnization of any marriage. But the bill actually goes much farther. Of course, the Constitution already protects the ability of a rabbi to refuse to marry an interfaith couple or a church to refuse to host a marriage ceremony in its sanctuary for a divorced person. But digging deeper, the bill could actually permit, for instance, a for-profit wedding venue to refuse to serve an inter-faith couple, interracial couple, or a same-sex couple.
Moreover, if passed, the broad FADA provision would allow a range of individuals and organizations— including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services— to refuse, based on religion, to provide any service to LGBTQ couples and their families. Indeed, it could allow for a taxpayer-funded homeless shelter to deny a place to stay for a same-sex couple, an after-school program to reject a student because her parents are a same-sex couple. In short, this bill could cause real harm to real people in the Commonwealth.
A bill like this isn't new. HB 2025 and its companion bill from the Senate, SB 1324, are this year's incarnations of 2016's Virginia FADA, SB 41. That FADA passed the state's General Assembly, only to be vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Although state legislators are doggedly pushing the 2017 iterations through House and Senate, the governor has vowed to use his veto power again should the bills land on his desk.
Although some lawmakers want to allow religious beliefs to be used as an excuse to deny healthcare, refuse to provide services, and ignore laws protecting Americans from discrimination and abuse, we won’t back down. We will continue to follow dangerous bills like HB 2025 on our 2017 State Legislation Tracker.