Tuesday, February 9, 2010

VA Senate Passes Anti-Discrimination Bill

VA Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Alexandria) / Photo by Steve Helber, AP

Today's Washington Post says that the Virginia Senate passed a bill Monday that would make it illegal to discriminate in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation, marking the first time such legislation has passed either chamber of the Virginia General Assembly.

The bill, which passed on a 23-to-17 largely party line vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, will almost certainly die in the Republican-led House of Delegates.

But advocates hailed its passage as an important step in an incremental process toward passage. Opponents said the measure would provide unnecessary legal protections that could provoke lawsuits in a workforce that does not discriminate.

Virginia's last two Democratic governors signed executive orders that protected workers from discrimination, including on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who took office last month, has pledged not to allow discrimination for any reason in state government. But he maintained that his predecessors had overstepped their executive authority by including sexual orientation protections in the orders and has not renewed them. He said the issue would be properly decided by the General Assembly.

Senators who backed the measure said they believed its passage would bring Virginia's employment practices in line with the private sector and public opinion. They likened the vote to those taken during the civil rights era and predicted that lawmakers who voted against it would come to regret their action in coming years.

Federal law prohibits discrimination on grounds that include race, religion and sex but not sexual orientation. Thirty other states have extended protections to gay employees.

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