For the second year in a row, the Virginia General Assembly has sent the Governor “religious freedom” bill that would allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate. Religious freedom is a fundamental value. It guarantees us the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. But it does not give anyone the right to discriminate against others.
Last year, Governor Terry McAuliffe stood up for real religious freedom and vetoed the bill. This year, he’s promised to do so again. And here’s how you can take action to urge him to keep his promise.
HB 2025, this year’s combination Pastor Protection Act and First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), doesn’t just pick one way to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom, but two, both focused on marriage. The result: an ambiguous and dangerous hybrid.
The proponents of this legislations argue that it ensures that the state may not force members of the clergy to perform any marriage ceremony, but the First Amendment already does that. In practice, however, this legislation would go further. It would, for example, permit a for-profit subsidiary of a religiously affiliated institution that runs a commercial wedding venue open to the general public, to turn away interfaith, interracial, or same-sex couples because of the institution’s religious beliefs.
The bill would also 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 or an after-school program to reject a student because her parents are a same-sex couple. This bill could cause real harm to real people in the Commonwealth.
Alongside our coalition partners, Americans United fought this bill in both the House and the Senate, and have asked the governor to oppose it. Unfortunately, Virginia lawmakers passed the bill and sent it to the governor’s desk. We’re counting on Governor McAuliffe to veto this discriminatory bill.