The state of Virginia is set to pass a law which would allow anti-LGBT business owners to bar gay people, purely on the basis of their sexuality.
The Virginia Bill states that anyone seeking or holding a business license from the state of Virginia in the state can refuse service or entry to gay people, on the grounds it “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex “marriage” or homosexual behavior.”
This would make it lawful for LGBT people to be barred from hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and any other premise where a good or service is exchanged by someone who dislikes their sexual orientation:
Want to buy a bed? Prove you’re not sharing it with a member of the same sex.
Want to buy diapers but show up with your same-sex partner? No diapers for you, and don’t darken the door of this store again.
We aren’t going to enroll your kid in our school district because she has two moms.
All these scenarios would be entirely legal under the new law.
The toxic bill has been spearheaded by Virginia’s virulently anti-gay lawmaker Bob Marshall. You might remember him for his fruitless effort to exclude gay people from the state’s National Guard, or his 2012 attempt to block the appointment of a judge on the grounds that the nominee was gay, saying that “sodomy is not a civil right.”
Virginia is not alone. Conservative lawmakers in more than a dozen states are attempting to cancel out increased rights for gay people with laws claiming to protect the religious freedom of antigay business owners and institutions. The good news is, they have a hell of time getting such laws to stick. In fact, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar proposal in her state last year after outcry from the gay community, saying she believed businesses were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the law. Opponents of the bill hope another veto will save Virginia from this regressive law. A similar bill passed by the Kansas state House of Representatives in 2014, got killed off in the state Senate.
Elsewhere, states like Michigan and Mississippi have passed and maintained their own ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Acts’ by being less explicit about targeting LGBT people. This has allowed them to argue the case from an anti-big government perspective, rather than an anti-gay one. But under the flowery words, they amount to the same thing.
Civil rights activists and LGBT Virginians are not fazed by attempts to disguise prejudice with arguments of religious liberty:
“It’s licensing [discrimination], authorizing it, and saying it’s okay,” Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU, told LGBTQ Nation.
Christy Mallory, senior counsel at the Williams Institute, who has been tracking nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people across the country, pointed out that Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has a “track record of expanding protections for LGBT people.”
Let’s hope she’s right.