Controversial religious rights bill passes in Virginia

WASHINGTON — A controversial bill designed to protect religious organizations from being penalized for their beliefs has passed the Virginia General Assembly.

The House of Delegates approved Senate Bill 41 Wednesday on a 59-38 vote. The Senate passed the measure last month.

“We’re establishing a state religion,” Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, stated on the House floor.

“We are saying we are going to prefer this specific set of beliefs above all others.”

Simon added that pastors, priests and rabbis already had the right to not perform any marriage ceremony as they wish.

“There are Catholic priests that won’t marry people that are divorced. There are rabbis that won’t marry people that are interfaith couples. There are people that won’t marry people after sundown on Friday night,” Simon said.

“Nobody has ever tried to make those people marry anybody they didn’t want to.”

Del. Robert Marshall said opposition to the bill comes from an effort to “want to excise out from the public square individuals who accept and practice only what marriage was understood for millennia.”

“If you want to protect what has been the common understanding for people as different as Napoleon or Socrates or anybody, marriage is between one man and one woman, and to say anything else and to punish with the public power of either tax status or licensure or recognition or derecognition in any way, I think, is improper,” he said.

“But it is telling how far people want to go with the quote, ‘freedom to marry.'”

The bill doesn’t just apply to individuals or organizations who refuse to officiate or offer services for a marriage ceremony. The legislation also protects other institutions, like religious schools, from being penalized by the government for its beliefs.

“Of course that is correct, that is the whole point,” said bill supporter Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, when asked by a colleague to clarify.

“Religious institutions have these deeply held religious beliefs that they do mean something to these religious institutions just as has been contemplated throughout our history that we respect those beliefs.”

After the Senate and House work out minor changes made to the bill in the House, the legislation will go to the governor’s office to be signed.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to veto the measure.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up