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Virginia Passes First Statewide LGBTQ Protection Bill in the South

March 5th, 2020

A gay rainbow flag on a flagpole
Once signed, the LGBTQ protection bill will update Virginia’s nondiscrimination laws and provide additional protection for LGBTQ individuals, among others.

The Virginia Values Act was recently passed by both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, and democratic Governor Ralph Northam has said he will sign it into law. The bill will update Virginia’s nondiscrimination laws and provide additional protection for LGBTQ individuals in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. Once signed, Virginia will become the first state in the South to extend non-discrimination protects to the LGBTQ community.

Current Virginia Laws

Statistics suggest that approximately 257,400 people who identify as LGBTQ live in Virginia. Under existing state laws, LGBTQ individuals are not protected from discrimination, meaning they can be denied service in any area from housing to employment. Moreover, Virginia is one of only five states without existing public accommodation protections for any protected class, including race. As such, the new law will significantly update human rights protections in Virginia.

What the Virginia Values Act Includes

The Virginia Values Act updates existing laws to now prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in areas like credit access, housing, and public accommodation. For the purposes of this bill, public accommodation includes things like stores, restaurants, physician offices, and government buildings. Additionally, the bill creates new protections for residents of Virginia based on other identifying factors like age, childbirth, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national origin, pregnancy, sex, and race. Under the Act, employers with six or more employees are required to follow these new regulations. The protection afforded by the bill is extended to state workers and school board employees as well as private residents. Additionally, the law provides for unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination cases

Support for the LGBTQ Protection Bill

The bill has received substantial support throughout Virginia. A spokesperson for the Virginia Values Coalition commented that the Virginia Values Act sends a message that is welcoming to all individuals. A spokesperson for the Equality Virginia organization also commented that the Act is a needed step in making sure that LGBTQ individuals are treated fairly and remain protected. Additionally, Virginia’s Governor Northam, House Speaker, and Senate have commented that passing the bill is a top priority for Democrats this year, now that the House of Delegates is controlled by Democrats for the first time in 20 years.

Pushback Against the Bill

Despite passing with significant, bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, some Republicans have argued that the Virginia Values Act is overbroad and will infringe on religious liberty. One lawmaker suggested it will force small businesses to accommodate same-sex weddings or lead to compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination lawsuits, though there are exemptions to the new law for religious institutions and private clubs

Keeping Readers Updated About LGBTQ Laws

Each month, the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on detailing the most recent developments in LGBTQ laws throughout the country. While many of these issues are complex and involve a myriad of opinions, our blog focuses on describing matters as clearly as possible.

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