POLITICS
01/14/2014 07:04 am ET | Updated Mar 16, 2014

Virginia Senate Democrats Announce Major Push To Expand Gay Rights

Two days after fellow party members were installed as governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, Virginia Senate Democrats unveiled an ambitious legislative agenda to expand gay rights.

The legislation would codify nondiscrimination laws protecting gays in the state workforce, and allow public colleges, universities and localities to extend benefits to same-sex partners. Lawmakers also propose an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would repeal the 2006 amendment barring same-sex marriages.

"Clearly the tide of history is on our side, the moral arc of the universe is bending in our direction," Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, told reporters at the state Capitol.

McEachin's Senate Bill 248 would codify the executive order Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed on Saturday providing workplace protections. Senate Bill 252 would provide benefits to partners of public employees.

The senator said 21 states have employment discrimination protection for gays, a position endorsed by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, announced SJ1, which would repeal the marriage amendment passed in 2006.

"Our marriage laws are becoming more antiquated every day," said Ebbin, referring to the current amendment regulating marriage as between a man and a woman.

"Equality will make its way to Virginia sooner or later," said James Parrish, director of the gay rights group Equality Virginia.

A 2-1 Republican majority in the House of Delegates presents steadfast opposition to much of the agenda the Democrats announced Monday.

Several children wearing badges identifying themselves as members of the Family Foundation, which opposes gay marriage, occupied seats at the news conference.

Outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli left a legal opinion on his last day in office that appeared to reinforce his position that public colleges and universities could not include anti-discrimination protections for gays because they are not explicitly identified among protected classes of citizens in state law. Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, requested the advisory opinion, which does not carry the force of law.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, said in a statement: "The left's attacks on marriage, religious liberty and parental rights won't be distracting enough for Virginians to notice they don't have jobs, but they could undermine Governor McAuliffe's claims that he wants to work across party lines and avoid divisive issues."

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