VA Bill Amendment Mirrors AZ Religious Freedoms Bill, Allows State-Sanctioned Discrimination

VA Bill Amendment Mirrors AZ Religious Freedoms Bill, Allows State-Sanctioned Discrimination

A bill which was signed into law last week could open the door for discriminatory legislation similar to what was proposed in Arizona in recent weeks.

SB 330 and its mirror HB 612 deal with the licensing of genetic counselors here in Virginia, but the addition of a “conscience clause” would allow state funded organizations and private businesses to deny services to someone who “conflicts with the counselor’s deeply-held moral or religious beliefs.”

The House version of the bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed by Gov. McAuliffe last week. Three democratic senators, Chap PetersenChuck Colgan, andPhil Puckett sided with 20 republicans in the senate vote on the bill.

The ACLU of Virginia, who compared the bills to AZ’s now vetoed religious freedoms bill, has started an online petition urging Governor McAuliffe to take action against the bill, albeit symbolic as the bill has already passed.

The ACLU details a scenario in which a counselor might deny services to anyone who is “lesbian or gay or of a different religious faith or unmarried and pregnant or because the person may want to take an action with which the counselor doesn’t personally agree based on the genetic information provided by the counselor.”

The ACLU admits this legislation may seem banal because it deals with a specific industry, but the legal group sees the passage of this legislation as opening the door to more state-sanctioned discrimination. A press release from the conservative group the Family Foundation of Virginia echoes that idea.

“[i]f genetic counselors can be protected from being forced to violate their conscience, it follows that all other professions should receive equal protection,” states the release. The Family Foundation goes on to pose the passage of this bill as a sign that McAuliffe is “out of touch with even the most “progressive” leaders of his own party.”

This is not the first time a conscience clause has been put into place here in Virginia. In 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell signed adoption legislation including such a clause which allows state funded adoption agencies to denied adoptions based on religious or moral beliefs, complicating same-sex adoptions in the state.

While there is little to stop the law now, the ACLU continues to press Gov. McAuliffe on the issue.

“We recognize the vetoing SB 330 will be seen by some as a symbolic act because the companion house bill has already been signed into law,” said the ACLU in the petition. “But, symbols are important, and action in response to the Family Foundation’s proclamation of this bill as a model for future legislation is reason to send a strong message now that any future “conscience clause” legislation will be met with similar strong action.”

Gov. McAuliffe and Senators PetersenColgan, and Puckett had not returned requests for comment by press time, but the story will be updated if and when comments are released.