Gov. McAuliffe announces equality agenda for 2015 session

For the 2015 General Assembly legislative session, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced an equal opportunity agenda for women and gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender workers throughout the Commonwealth.

The equal opportunity agenda will include changes to the wording in the state code from “man and woman” or “husband and wife” to the “spouse.” The governor is also proposing “equal pay for equal work” legislation for women in the commonwealth by raising the penalty for employers violating equal pay laws from two times to three times the lost wages of the employee.

Brian Coy, the governor’s press secretary, said this aspect of the agenda is reflective of existing company anti-discrimination policies.

“There are many companies around the globe that value equality and do not tolerate discrimination,” Coy said. “Changing the wording is another tool to get these issues off the table so that we are not known as [a] commonwealth where people’s rights are limited.”

Coy added, “The governor said during his campaign and he continues to fight for expanding rights for all Virginians.”

Rhona Collins, a board member of the Winchester PFLAG chapter said she welcomes the changes to the code.

“We obviously have people who are facing challenges and if this makes things easier for LGBTQ folks in terms of building economic security, then that’s one less challenge to face,” Collins said.

Collins said the many members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community still face workplace discrimination.

“Often we hear about people who have lost their jobs and they can’t pinpoint it had anything to do with their sexual orientation, but employers can find a way around it,” Collins said. “A lot of our young folks, who face a better future with marriage equality, still experience job place discrimination.”

Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13), who is introducing a bill to bar same-sex couples from filing joint state income tax returns, said the proposed changes in the state code is “stupefying in its inanity.”

“Man and wife is eons old and Mr. McAuliffe in his new sexual orthodoxy that he wants to impose on us has decided that gender makes no difference,” Marshall said. “This is really astounding.”

Marshall said gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are not the only employees who have faced workplace discrimination.

“Former fire chief Kelvin Cochran of Atlanta was fired not because he was exercising biased behavior on the job against people who do sodomy or whatever the lesbians do, but because he wrote a little tract where he quoted the Old Testament,” Marshall said. “Now that’s unjust discrimination.”

The following are also on the equal opportunity legislative agenda:

• A proposal to address sexual assaults on college campuses by directing the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to assist state universities and colleges to update sexual misconduct policies by July 31.

• A proposal to document on a student’s academic transcript from a public university or college any dismissal due to violations of the school’s sexual misconduct policy, student code of conduct or university honor code.

• A proposal to allow victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking to leave work to seek medical treatment for injuries, services from shelters, rape crisis centers and social services programs, mental health counseling or plant to relocate his or herself, along with their family members, for safety purposes.

• A proposal to repeal a 2012 law requiring all women to undergo mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com