Rare win for LGBTQ Virginians as two equality bills pass full Senate vote

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

RICHMOND, Va. — Two measures which would help LGBTQ Virginians achieve full equality passed a full Senate floor vote on Tuesday, but face likely defeat in the Assembly’s lower chamber.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

SB 785, sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin, would expand the state’s list of protected classes in public employment to include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Currently LGBTQ state employees are protected from discrimination by an executive order from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, however there is not law in the state code guaranteeing those protections once McAuliffe leaves office.

In a show of bi-partisan support, Republican Sen. John Watkins (R-Petersburg) voted in favor of the bill.

Workplace discrimination was a priority issue for Equality Virginia, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group. Executive Director James Parrish said he was pleased to see SB 785 pass the Senate with bi-partisan support.

“Fairness and inclusion are mainstream values shared by the majority of Virginians and the Commonwealth’s top employers,” said Parrish.

The vote came down to a tie, despite a slight Republican majority in the state Senate. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a long time ally to the LGBTQ community, caste the tie-breaking vote.

The second bill, SB 1211, sponsored by Virginia’s only openly gay Senator, Adam Ebbin, also passed the full senate floor on Tuesday.

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Ebbins’ bill aims to update the Virginia state code to update some of the gender specific language to become gender neutral since Virginia now recognizes same-sex marriage.

Again, in a show of bipartisan support, GOP Sens. Watkins, Walter Stosch, and Tommy Norment voted in favor of the bill.

“Updating the Code of Virginia to reflect marriage equality is the right thing to do,” said Parrish. “[SB 1211] makes it clear that all legally married spouses are included under Virginia law.”

This is the first time a pro-LGBTQ bill had made it to the Senate floor since 2013 when SB 701, a similar workplace protections bill, passed the Senate but was killed in a House Committee.

Both bills face an uphill battle when they enter the GOP-dominated House in the coming weeks.

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