From the ACLU of Virginia – The 2015 Legislative Session and LGBT Equality
by Frank Knaack, Director of Public Policy and Communications, ACLU of Virginia (Originally posted on ACLU of Virginia's website) The tide is turning. A generation from now, we may look back on 2014 as the turning point in the fight for LGBT equality. But, while 2014 is the year marriage equality came to the Commonwealth, we will not have full equality for LGBT Virginians until we end discrimination in employment, housing, and access to services. That’s right – while lesbian and gay Virginians can finally enjoy marriage equality, they can still be fired from their job after placing a picture of their spouse on their desk at work. We’ve achieved tremendous progress, but discrimination against LGBT Virginians remains alive and well. In addition to our work to end discrimination in employment and housing, we’re also gearing up for the next big battle in the effort to secure true equality for Virginia’s LGBT community – turning the tide on legislation that would permit Virginia-licensed professionals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of the owner or professional’s personal beliefs, even if those actions burden or offend the rights, welfare, or well-being of others. Using religion to legitimize discrimination is nothing new. In the 1960s we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of some owners’ beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. Today, LGBT Virginians are the target of intolerance. Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others. It’s time for Virginians to draw a line in the sand. You’re either against discrimination, or you’re not. It’s that simple. It’s time for the Commonwealth to show that LGBT Virginians are no longer a target of intolerance. Here are our LGBT rights priorities during the 2015 session: Protecting Public Employees from Discrimination We’re supporting Equality Virginia’s work to pass legislation that would protect all public employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran covered by the Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. State employees are currently protected by an Executive Order that is subject to revision at any time by the sitting governor and provides no private right of action. Local employees can use grievance procedures to complain of discrimination in some instances, but there is currently no state law prohibiting discrimination in local government workplaces. The ACLU of Virginia supports legislation that will codify protections against discrimination in state and local government for all employees, including LGBT employees. Using Religion to Discriminate The Family Foundation has announced that it will seek the introduction of legislation that would permit businesses and professional services to discriminate based on the moral or religious beliefs of the owner or professional. The ACLU of Virginia opposes legislation that would permit Virginia-licensed professionals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of the owner or professional’s personal beliefs. The ACLU of Virginia vigorously defends every person’s right to religious freedom, and the right to act on those religious beliefs—unless those actions burden or offend the rights, welfare, or well-being of others. ACLU of Virginia is a strong coalition partner in our work to bring true equality to LGBT Virginians. Learn more about the ACLU of Virginia here.