While The Equality Act, which would add LGBTQ non-discrimination protections to existing federal laws, languishes in limbo due to the Republican-controlled Senate, lawmakers in Virginia decided to move forward with pro-LGBTQ legislation on their own.
On Thursday, the Virginia House of Delegates approved House Bill 1663, also known as the Virginia Values Act, by a vote of 59-35. HB 1663 will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination laws.
Prior to the vote, openly gay State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County), who introduced the Virginia Values Act in the House, told his colleagues the bill does not “interfere with anybody’s religious freedom. What it does is punish discrimination.”
Earlier in the day, the state Senate approved its version of the legislation by a vote of 30-9.
The Virginia Values Act will require employers with six or more employees to comply with the new law. Additionally, all school board employees and all state government employees will be protected under the new law.
Similar legislation had been passed by the state Senate in recent years but was repeatedly blocked by anti-equality lawmakers in the House of Delegates.
Upon regaining control of the General Assembly last November, Democrats announced the legislation would be a top priority.
The Washington Blade reports Gov. Ralph Northam has indicated he will sign the legislation into law once the Senate and House reconcile their versions of the bill.
With his signature, Virginia will become the first state in the South to include sexual orientation and gender identity in statewide non-discrimination laws.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reports the new legislation could provide equal treatment for 307,000 LGBTQ Virginians.
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement, “Today, history was made in Virginia, and LGBTQ Virginians are one step closer to being protected from discrimination simply because of who they are or whom they love.”