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Will Virginia Lawmakers Stop Discrimination Against LGBT Employees?

By Lucas Grindley

Four Republicans joined all of Virginia's Democratic state senators to pass an employment non-discrimination guarantee for LGBT people on Friday, but the idea could stop there.

The Human Rights Campaign praised the Senate's vote but noted the difficulty presented by the House of Delegates, "where it faces a steep uphill climb in the more conservative chamber."

The Virginian Pilot editorial board called on state lawmakers to pass the bill, warning that with right-wing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli planning a run for governor, it's possible discrimination against LGBT state employees could be ignored.

Cuccinelli raised the profile of the issue when in 2010 he undid inclusive anti-discrimination policies by state universities, saying they were illegal unless the legislature acted.

The state's governors had a recent history of working around the legislature by issuing executive orders barring antigay discrimination by state employees. Democratic governor Mark Warner was the first to issue an inclusive executive order, with former governor Tim Kaine following suit. But when Republican Governor Bob McDonnell issued an executive order on workplace discrimination it did not include sexual orientation as a protected class, which would have made the state liable in lawsuits.

Instead, McDonnell later warned state employees they could be reprimanded or fired for discriminating against gays and lesbians.

The state's first openly gay senator, Adam Ebbin, led the effort to pass the anti-discrimation bill, which succeeded on a 24-16 vote. "We're going to press forward with this momentum," he said. "No state employee should ever doubt Virginia's commitment to equal opportunity for all. This assures state employees that they will be judged solely on their merits and that discrimination has no place in Virginia."

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