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Progressive Voice: Say No to a License to Discriminate in Virginia

Alfonso LopezProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Delegate Alfonso Lopez 

Over the past several years, Democrats have won every Virginia statewide elected office.

In presidential elections, the Commonwealth has become a bellwether state. The competitive nature of Virginia’s statewide political campaigns is, however, largely absent in the Virginia House of Delegates, where, with 66 Republicans and 34 Democratic legislators, political gerrymandering has created a body that is anything but representative of the Commonwealth.

The consequences of a House that is unrepresentative of the Commonwealth as a whole is ideologically-driven legislation that is harmful to Virginia.

Just this week, the House passed HB773 with the Orwellian title – “The Government Nondiscrimination Act.” This bill actually does just the opposite. It allows non-government entities to discriminate against others based upon that entity’s religious beliefs as they relate to same-sex marriage, the transgender community, and even sex outside of marriage.

Under this bill, private companies, universities, and non-profits could refuse to work with individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity without any repercussions to state contracts, funding, accreditation, or licensure. Simply put, the state would not be allowed to stop discrimination.

The bill passed on a 56-41 vote.

You read that correctly. In 2016, a sizable House majority still wants to embrace and enshrine discrimination in the Code of Virginia.

It is the will of the House to require the Commonwealth to continue providing contracts, tax exemptions and state funding to support discrimination. Accredited private universities could deny admission or degrees to Virginians based on their sexual orientation.

While Governor McAuliffe has issued an executive order banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, he would become powerless to prevent the Commonwealth from supporting entities that discriminate on this basis in Virginia.

This is not the message we should be sending as a Commonwealth. Instead of protecting Virginians from discrimination, their state would be required to support it.

It appears that the real reason supporters pushed this bill through the House is so that social conservatives can send a message to their base during a Presidential election year and prior to the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries.

They think little of how this type of legislation makes Virginia appear unwelcoming and hostile to people and businesses who might be considering relocating here.

If we want to make sure that Virginia is open for business and to create a new Virginia economy less dependent on federal spending, do we really want to fall into the traps that other states have fallen into when they pursued similar legislation?

General Electric, Apple, Salesforce.com, Eli Lilly, Lyft, Twitter, WalMart, and AirBnB are examples of companies that have spoken out against similar bills in other states.

Last year, when Indiana considered similar legislation in the run up to the men’s basketball Final Four, the NCAA made it clear that they would not host another large-scale, lucrative tournament in the state as long as such legislation was on the books.

Oddly enough – despite numerous Democratic efforts to update Virginia law – it is not illegal in the Commonwealth to discriminate against gay and transgender people in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. But, under this bill, we will be doubling down on discrimination by forbidding the state from working to avoid such discrimination. Indeed, the state would be on record as supporting the heavy hand of discrimination.

George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790 was just 340 words but it is a telling refutation of the spirit of the House bill. Washington wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support….May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths…

Persecution under the guise of ‘religious liberty’ goes against our nation’s values. Our first President – a Virginian — got it right. We should not be creating a license to discriminate in Virginia.

Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates. He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.

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