Virginia Senate committee kills housing bill, defers workplace protections bill

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond. Wikimedia

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.Wikimedia

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

RICHMOND, Va. — It’s still legal to deny housing to LGBT Virginians after a Senate committee on Monday failed to advance legislation amid concerns that a fair housing bill would violate religious freedoms, while delaying another bill until next week that would protect LGBT workers in public employment.

The fair housing bill (SB 917), which would have prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, was met with a tie vote by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, but not deferred to a later hearing.

“A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity has nothing to do with if they’ll be a good tenant or neighbor, it has nothing to do with if they’ll pay their rent,” said Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg), before opening the floor for public comment.

“Those are really the factors that should go into housing decisions. We need to make Virginia a welcoming place… and as it is now, we’re behind the curve on this,” she said.

Public comment came quick, with opposing voices often pointing to concerns of religious liberty being violated if the bill was passed.

Jeff Caruso with the Virginia Catholic Conference expressed concerns that the bill would apply to private entities, including faith-based companies.

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“Given the diversity of views among different faith based organizations on marriage, each one of those organizations should have the ability to make decisions in accord with their beliefs about marriage and some organizations believe marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman,” said Jeff Caruso of the Virginia Catholic Conference, expressing concern that the bill would apply to private entities and faith-based companies.

Chris Freund of the Virginia Christian group The Family Foundation, said there is a conflict between religious freedom and sexual liberty being fought in America’s legislative halls, and that the Senators were he “last line of defense” for religious freedom.

“You’re seeing businesses that don’t want to participate in a same-sex marriage being forced to by government,” he said.

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