In 1970, Governor Linwood Holton established a tradition that our chief executives have followed since; his first official act as Governor was the issuance of an executive order promising state employees equal opportunity and protection from discrimination in the workplace.
35 years later, Governor Warner concluded his term by signing an executive order extending this protection to discrimination based on sexual orientation -- a promise of opportunity continued in Governor Kaine’s first executive order on Equal Opportunity issued the day he was sworn in as Virginia’s 70th Governor – a promise also extended by Governor Kaine’s order to Virginia’s veterans.
Despite this long history of executive action, this legislature has never acted to incorporate in the Code of Virginia an explicit and comprehensive ban on discrimination in public employment. Private companies seeking to contract with the Commonwealth are required by law not to discriminate in employment. Constitutional officers are prohibited by law from discriminating in employment. Localities have permission to adopt anti-discrimination ordinances applicable to private employers but are not required by state law to guarantee their employees a workplace free of discrimination. School divisions and localities are required to afford employees the right to grieve discrimination, but are not affirmatively prohibited from discriminating.
It is time for legislative action. We can start by adopting the language in Governor Warner’s budget that will protect state employees from discrimination. But we need to go beyond that.
It is time for this legislature to make the Commonwealth’s equal opportunity policy clear and applicable equally to all public employees.
No state, local or public school employee should have reason to doubt our commitment to equal opportunity in employment for all regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
That is why Senator Locke and I will introduce today a bill that compliments and builds on Warner’s and Kaine’s executive actions and makes equal opportunity a matter of legislative enactment as well as executive action.
And, yes, this bill would include sexual orientation in our statement of the Commonwealth’s nondiscrimination policy. Protecting Virginia’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender public employees from discrimination is not a radical idea.
We are far behind private sector employers in adopting such a nondiscrimination policy.
Jerry Falwell has said that protection from employment and housing discrimination is not a special right but a basic human right.
A poll by a bi-partisan polling team recently found that, even among Virginia voters who would vote for a marriage amendment, 86% said gays and lesbians should have the right to work for the government and 63% said that they should have the right to teach in public schools.
And, 24 of the 40 Senators in this body and 60 of the members of the body at the other end of the hall have said that they don’t discriminate hiring in their offices.
We invite you to join us in making equal opportunity in employment the law for all Virginia public employees.
So far, 9 Senators (including Locke and Lucas) have signed on.
If your Senator is not on the list, call the Senator and tell him or her you'd like to see his or her name on the list of co-patrons for SB 700.
If we can't convince them to be sensible when it comes to the so-called marriage amendment, perhaps we can convince them to do what's right when it comes to employment discrimination.
As Senator Lucas says, there's nothing "radical" about it.