McAuliffe vetoes bill that defies gay unions

Todd Gilbert

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed religious organizations to discriminate against same sex couples while prohibiting state agencies from taking action to deter such practices.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, acted days after governors in North Carolina and Georgia stirred controversy in decisions made on similar measures in their states.

Republican Pat McCrory in North Carolina signed a bill barring local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws for lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.

Republican Nathan Deal in Georgia announced Monday that he intended to veto a bill that would permit religious groups to withhold “social, educational or charitable services that violate” principles of their faiths.

Virginia’s bill originated with Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock. It evolved during the amendment process in the Senate into what Gilbert described as a “watered down” version of his initial measure.

Gilbert and other Republicans called their efforts a reasonable attempt to respect the religious liberties of those opposed to recent court decisions that have legalized same-sex marriage and extended other civil rights protections to lesbians, gays and transgender people.

McAuliffe called the bill “unconstitutional” as he vetoed it during his monthly appearance on Washington radio station WTOP.

“We cannot have fear and persecution, people being demonized, we’re not going to tolerate that,” McAuliffe said.

Gilbert was disappointed but not surprised that McAuliffe vetoed legislation designed to protect what its backers have called “religious freedom.” Supporters appear to lack the votes to override McAuliffe’s veto when the General Assembly meets in April.

“What we’re seeing happen in other states confirms my fear that people of faith are going to be made to conform to this new standard requiring loss of their deeply held convictions,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said his legislation and the Senate version “were an effort to provide reasonable accommodation for the longstanding respect we have in the country for religious faith.”

All of the area’s legislators – Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall; Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester; Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg; and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester – joined Gilbert in voting for the bill.

Not all religious groups backed the legislation. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, issued a written statement from its regional office in Washington, D.C., praising McAuliffe for what associate director Eric Wachter called “embracing diversity.”

“Virginians should not have to worry that they or their children might be kicked out of school, refused medical treatment or denied other services with impunity simply because of who they love and have chosen to marry,” Wachter said.

While gay rights organizations and their allies saluted McAuliffe, Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, released a written statement condemning what she called the governor’s willingness “to discriminate against people of faith who simply disagree with the secular left’s sexual dogma.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com