Friday, April 03, 2015

Will Indiana's RFRA Spur the Virginia GOP to Increase Legalized Discrimination?

TFF's Queen of Hate and Bigotry, Victoria Cobb
While Indiana has come up with a less than acceptable "fix" to the furor that the Indiana GOP unleashed on that state, including condemnation from a who's who of the business world, some of the usual suspects in Virginia may perceive an opportunity to increase the existing license to discriminate under Virginia's existing RFRA which parallels the federal act.  Leading the charge is Del. Bob Marshall and, not doubt acting as puppeteer behind the scenes is The Family Foundation ("TFF"), a toxic anti-gay hate group with strong white supremacists leanings.  With the entire House of Delegates up for re-election in November, it is a safe bet that TFF will be calling in chits from incumbent Republicans and would be Virginia GOP candidates.  It is also worth remembering that LGBT Virginians have ZERO statutory non-discrimination protections thanks largely to the efforts of TFF and its Republican minions. A column in the Roanoke Times looks at the maneuvering that has already started.  Here are excerpts:

The national controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has reignited the debate over the meaning of a 2007 Virginia statute.

It also has renewed discussion about the fine line between protecting religious liberty and what some view as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
The Indiana law, criticized by the state’s business leaders as discriminatory and as a detriment to hiring the best and the brightest for their companies, this week prompted Gov. Terry McAuliffe to try to lure its businesses to the commonwealth.  . . . . McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy on Thursday clarified that the governor didn’t want to downplay discrimination against gays and lesbians in Virginia, “but that doesn’t mean we aren’t in a place where we’re making serious progress.”

Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, said that with his letter, McAuliffe conceded that there is not discrimination of LGBT Virginians.  “It’s very hypocritical of the governor to come to the General Assembly and say we need a law elevating sexual orientation to a protected class and then go to Indiana and say that we don’t discriminate,” Cobb said. . . . “Our law has served us well, simply providing people of faith their day in court,” she said.

Carl Tobias, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that the cultural and judicial acceptance of same-sex marriage has reignited interest in passing laws to protect religious liberties.  “But RFRAs haven’t been used that way before, they have mainly been used by prisoners to gain protection for their religious beliefs,” Tobias said. “The concern is now that this will be turned into a device to discriminate against same-sex couples and LGBT people. That is a fairly legitimate concern.”

This year, during the legislative session, Marshall proposed his own tweak to Virginia’s law on religious liberty.  But his measure, that would have allowed anyone holding a state license, including business owners, lawyers and doctors, to deny services to gay people without facing disciplinary action, was defeated by a Republican-led House panel in January.  Virginia ACLU director Gastanaga said Marshall essentially “was trying to do the Indiana thing.”

The mere fact that some lawmakers want to strengthen Virginia’s religious liberty law is perceived as a threat by advocates for LGBT rights — in spite of legalized same-sex marriage and McAuliffe’s executive order protecting Virginia state employees from discrimination based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.  “Gay people can still be fired, be denied housing, be denied public accommodation,” said James Parrish, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Virginia.

“We get calls from people who were not hired because they are gay, and because gays and lesbians are not included as a protected class, there is no legal recourse,” Parrish said.  Said Gastanaga: “The reality is, we do not have a general non-discrimination bill. We have one of the weakest civil rights laws in the country. We are like Indiana in that respect.
Stay tuned for more Virginia GOP and TFF efforts to strengthen the right to discriminate based on false claims of "religious freedom."

No comments: