Legislating Against Discrimination

Legislating Against Discrimination

I passed several bills last week that would advance equality for women, gay and lesbian married couples, and LGBT state employees.

My resolution to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA, SJ216), was approved 20-18 by the Senate on Feb. 5.

The passage of the ERA would bring the U.S. Constitution into conformity with Virginia’s values. We are one of five states that prohibit gender discrimination in our state Constitution but have not yet approved the ratification of the federal amendment.

SJ216 would add Virginia to the majority of states supporting the addition of the ERA to the U.S. Constitution. The language would explicitly guarantee that women and men are citizens of equal standing under federal and state law. This is an important distinction to make when it comes to protecting the legal advances that have been made in the area of women’s rights over the last 50 years. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia clearly articulated his opinion about gender equality when he stated “the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

The ERA would guarantee equal pay for equal work. This is an economic issue impacting many Virginia families. The money that comes into a household helps the whole family, and when women are being discriminated against in the workplace, it affects everyone.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last fall to let stand the 4th Circuit Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia, there are 65 sections in our code that need to be changed in order to accommodate married gay and lesbian couples. On Feb. 3, my bill (SB1211) passed the full Senate with bipartisan support.

This legislation clarifies that all lawfully married spouses are included under Virginia law. This is important when dealing with legal issues involving child custody, inheritance, power of attorney, and taxes because lawyers and accountants must be able to properly advise and serve their clients.

My bill prohibiting discrimination against LGBT public employees (SB1181) was combined with legislation sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin (D-Henrico) and passed the Senate on Feb. 3.

A recent study by the UCLA Williams Institute found that 21 percent of LGBT respondents reported unfair treatment by an employer in hiring, pay or promotions. When transgender people were asked the same question separately, an astounding 80 percent of workers reported having experienced harassment or other mistreatment at work.

Nondiscrimination also makes economic sense. Currently 21 state governments have nondiscrimination policies including neighboring D.C. and Maryland. Without nondiscrimination protections, Virginia’s state and local agencies as well as our colleges and universities are at a competitive disadvantage to effectively recruit and retain top talent.

Governor McAuliffe has called for Virginia to be open and welcoming to all businesses and workers, a sentiment shared by overwhelming majorities of Virginia citizens and businesses. According to recent polling, 87 percent of Virginians support public nondiscrimination protections. In the private sector, 88 percent of Fortune 500 Companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place. Adopting such a policy for public employees would put the state in line with America’s leading companies.

For decades Virginia’s Governors have issued executive orders forbidding discrimination for state employees. However, only Governors Warner, Kaine and McAuliffe have included sexual orientation and gender identity in those orders. We need to codify this policy into law once and for all so that it will not be at the whim of each future Governor whether state employees are afforded these protections.

Discrimination is wrong regardless of what form it takes. It is a fundamental American value that individuals should be judged on their talents, not on their gender or who they love.

I will be holding two Town Hall Meetings this Saturday, Feb. 14. The first will be from 10:30 a.m.-noon at the Mount Vernon Government Center with Sen. Toddy Puller and Del. Scott Surovell; the second will be from 2:30-4 p.m. at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Old Town Alexandria with Del. Rob Krupicka.

Please take my online survey at www.AdamEbbin.com/Survey. You can also email me at district30@senate.virginia.gov. I am active on Twitter @AdamEbbin and Facebook at www.facebook.com/EbbinCampaign. You can sign up for my weekly email updates at www.AdamEbbin.com.

It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.