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Washington Blade: Equality Va. ‘found some wins’ in 2015 legislative session Print


Created:  Wednesday, March 4, 2015 11:41AM


The head of Virginia's largest statewide advocacy group on Tuesday categorized the 2015 legislative session that ended last week a success in spite of continued opposition to LGBT rights in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish during an interview with the Washington Blade pointed out members of the House General Laws Subcommittee in January killed state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County)'s so-called "conscience clause" bill that would have allowed state licensed or accredited business owners to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs.

Parrish noted Republicans were among the committee members who voted against the controversial measure.

"That is a win," he said.

Another legislative success for Equality Virginia came early last month when the Virginia Senate approved state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico)'s bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against state and local government employees.

Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam cast the tie-breaking vote that allowed the measure to pass.

"Employment discrimination in any form is truly unacceptable," said Northam in a statement after the vote.

The House General Laws Subcommittee later tabled the bill.

The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee in January narrowly killed a bill that would have allowed second-parent adoptions in the state.

Members of the Senate Education and Health Committee in January also struck down state Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth)'s measure that would have banned "conversion therapy" to minors in Virginia. The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee later killed an identical measure that state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) introduced.

"They need to take it a little more seriously," Parrish told the Blade, referring to the issue of "conversion therapy" to minors.

The House Militia, Police and Public Safety Subcommittee in January tabled state Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Arlington County)'s bill that would have required state police to report hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The vote took place roughly a week after Lamia Beard, a transgender woman of color, was shot to death in Norfolk.

Lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session killed a measure that would have repealed Virginia's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. They also voted against gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)'s bill that sought to add gender-neutral language to the commonwealth's marriage laws.

"We definitely found some wins," Parrish told the Blade. "You're finding some wins in the context of the reality."

The 2015 legislative session began less than four months after same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia.

Parrish noted the commonwealth's anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws still do not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. He stressed the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Virginia is "a new benchmark" that he feels forces state lawmakers to address other LGBT-specific issues.

"It helps that gay and lesbian couples are getting married in Virginia now and those marriages are being recognized," Parrish told the Blade. "It's there now and it's our new reality. It brings more visibility, which always help."