Late Wednesday afternoon, amidst growing tensions on college campuses, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a "Governor’s Directive," ordering those in the executive branch not to discriminate in their hiring practices (see here). His directive specifically referenced "sexual orientation." Governor McDonnell issued his directive in an apparent effort to ease the hostile atmosphere on our campuses and in the General Assembly. Four years ago, then-Attorney General McDonnell challenged Governor Tim Kaine’s executive order that added sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination policy, saying he didn’t have the authority to do so. It is still unclear exactly what legal weight, if any, a directive has, but media reports indicate that it does not have the same force of law of an executive order.
Much of the anger among college students has been generated by those who are supposed to be in authority at those schools — college presidents and administrators — who have criticized the advisory letter Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent them last week. The letter stated that public colleges and universities with anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation are in conflict with state law. Instead of providing leadership, the college presidents and administrators have provoked anger and outrage with inflamed rhetoric.
A media backlash also was fed by heated and often mean-spirited rhetoric by a handful of General Assembly members, including Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico) who, in a floor speech earlier this week, referenced Governor McDonnell’s graduate school thesis, yelling on the Senate floor, "We are being governed by the thesis!" Joining in the daily diatribes were Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) and Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-74, Henrico). It was often insinuated that anyone who disagrees with adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy is hateful and bigoted. But truth has been difficult to find in this debate.
In addition, some legislators made the outrageous claim that, without a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation, Virginia is not "business friendly" and would not be able to attract new jobs. But several publications and organizations currently recognize Virginia as the best state in America to do business without having this policy.
Nonetheless, yesterday morning, Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), in a clear conflict of interest as an employee of the College of William and Mary, one of the colleges expressing outrage over the AG’s letter, amended an economic development bill introduced by the Governor with: "The Commonwealth of Virginia maintains an ecumenical atmosphere in its sexual orientation hiring policies in the private and public workforce."
Besides being a bizarre statement, it is a frightening overreach into the private workplace, which would include religious-based ministries and churches. Fortunately, on the floor of the Senate — because of the Governor’s directive — Senator Norment removed his amendment from the bill.
The Family Foundation has and continues to maintain that there is no need for special protections for homosexuals. As the issue was thoroughly debated and voted on multiple times throughout this year’s General Assembly, no evidence of discrimination was presented.
We absolutely agree with one statement in Governor McDonnell’s directive — that state employment should be based on "qualifications, merit and performance," regardless of one’s immutable or unimmutable characteristics.
Over the next several days, we will consult with experts to determine the legal ramifications of this directive, but we are concerned when the Governor’s action is being heralded as a step forward by the ACLU and the state’s largest homosexual lobby, Equality Virginia (Pilot on Politics).
In a statement, Kent Willis of the ACLU said, "We hope this is only the beginning, and that the Governor's example will inspire legislators to finally pass a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in both private and public sector employment."
Any thought that the groups and organizations behind this effort will stop at public employment is naive. It is very clear that they want to force private businesses — including churches — to abide by their morality.