Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Saturday made history with an executive order that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees from discrimination.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, signed the order within hours of being sworn in as Virginia's 72nd governor.

β€œAn open and welcoming state is critical to the 21st century economy, but it's also imperative for justice and fairness,” McAuliffe said in a speech delivered after being sworn in as governor at a ceremony attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton. β€œMy administration will work tirelessly to ensure opportunities are equal for all of Virginia's children no matter if you are a girl or a boy, no matter what part of the commonwealth you live in, no matter your race or your religion and no matter who you love.”

The executive order signed by McAuliffe includes for the first time in Virginia history protections based on gender identity and expression. It replaces a 2010 order issued by then-Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican. McDonnell's order reversed his Democratic predecessor's order that included protections based on sexual orientation.

A legal challenge to Virginia's 2006 voter-approved gay marriage ban is scheduled to have its first hearing later this month. McAuliffe has not said whether his administration will defend the ban in court.

(Related: Judge schedules first hearing in AFER suit challenging Virginia's gay marriage ban.)