Respect Equality

Virginia House passes bill to exempt religious organizations from nondiscrimination laws

(The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Story at a glance

  • The Virginia House of Delegates this week approved a bill that would give certain religious-affiliated groups and businesses a pass on following the state’s nondiscrimination laws.
  • LGBTQ+ advocates have said it would virtually legalize discrimination.
  • The House of Delegates earlier this month blocked a measure to let voters decide whether Virginia should repeal language in its Constitution defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The Virginia House of Delegates this week approved a bill that would excuse certain religious and religious-affiliated organizations from following state nondiscrimination laws. Critics say it would sanction LGBTQ+ discrimination.

The bill, introduced in January by Rep. Les Adams (R), would amend Virginia law to exempt “any place of accommodation owned by or operated on behalf of a religious corporation, association, or society from the nondiscrimination of accommodation provisions of the Virginia Human Rights Act,” according to a description of the bill.

Under current law, only private businesses that are not open to the public are considered exempt.

The bill argues that nothing in the Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits a religious or religious-affiliated organization “from taking any action to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.”

Adams in a blog post late Thursday wrote that the bill’s primary intention is to “protect the religious liberty of Christian organizations and other faith groups.” He pledged to argue for its passage in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.


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But critics say Adams’ bill would undercut the Virginia Values Act, which was signed into law in 2020 by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to establish anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director Cathryn Oakley on Thursday said the bill was the latest in a flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks moving through state legislatures like Virginia.

“Anti-equality legislators in Virginia have repeatedly pushed legislation this session that would allow discrimination including against LGBTQ+ individuals. These repeated efforts have been especially prevalent in the House of Delegates, which has a slim anti-equality majority following last year’s election,” she said in a statement. “The latest example is HB 753, which would allow religion-based discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics.”

Oakley said the HRC and its partners are working to block “all legal attempts to legislate discrimination.”

“The Commonwealth is best when it’s open and welcoming to all to live, work, and raise a family,” she said.

Virginia’s House of Delegates earlier this month defeated a measure that would have allowed voters to decide if the state should repeal language in its Constitution defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.


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