Follow Terry McAuliffe around enough and you’ll hear a similar refrain just about everywhere he goes: if we want to “grow” our economy in Virginia, “we have to have same-sex marriage.” No, really, that’s the message.

A few weeks ago, the Governor earned a headline: “McAuliffe says same-sex marriage equality is positive for economic development.”

Regardless of one’s attitude toward the issue, the idea that if we just redefine marriage the messiness of Virginia’s stagnant economy will be solved is beyond preposterous. If that were the case, the half dozen states that had same-sex marriage long before the courts decided to impose it on America would have had thriving economies. I doubt those in Maryland and Massachusetts saw a real boost in their job opportunities when gays got to tie the knot.

Of course, the headline came the same week that lawmakers were informed of Virginia’s crushing budget deficit, and the continuing collapse of one of the main pillars of the state’s economy – federal government spending – problems for which our Governor has absolutely no real solutions (except to raise taxes), so he’s going with the tried and true “distraction” plan, with the media delightedly assisting.

And while McAuliffe uses empty rhetoric unchallenged by sympathetic activists journalists to tout his ideology, actual studies show that if McAuliffe were serious about economic growth, he’d spend his time advancing religious liberty.

In a recent article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, scholars published their findings that “religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes and that advances in religious freedom are in the self-interest of businesses, government, and societies by contributing to successful and sustainable enterprises that benefit societies and individuals.” The academic study found a strong connection between religious freedom and economic growth. 

You know, that thing that is the rhetorical goal.

But by stifling religious liberty, by siding with those who want to drive faith-based businesses out of Virginia if they dare operate according to conscience on issues of marriage and sexuality, McAuliffe is doing the exact opposite of what research indicates creates fertile ground for business growth.

I wonder if Virginia put the welcome mat out for everyone who runs a business according to their faith, what the impact would be on our economy. You know, operating with honesty and integrity? Running a business by putting people ahead of profit? Voluntarily contributing to the community?

The secular elites want everyone to believe that it is religion that stifles freedom and productivity, but research proves quite the opposite. A government that is willing to violate the conscience rights of its citizens to achieve its political ends is hardly a government that is going to water the seeds of economic freedom.

And that’s true no matter how many breweries we have to bribe to come to Virginia.