Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has
suggested the state will not move against public colleges and
universities that do not rescind anti-discrimination policies based
on sexual orientation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The governor issued his statement after
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a Republican, called
such measures illegal in a letter written to the schools.
“It is my advice that the law and
public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college of
university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,'
'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class
within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization
from the General Assembly,” Cuccinelli said in his letter.
And he advised the schools should “take
appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the
law and public policy of Virginia.”
While McDonnell's office called
Cuccinelli's advice “consistent with all prior opinions from the
office of the attorney general over the last 25 years on the
subject,” spokesman J. Tucker Martin added, “The governor will
appoint board members based solely on their ability and on their
strong commitment to educational excellence in Virginia. The
governor expects that no Virginia college or University, or any other
state agency, will engage in discrimination of any kind.”
State college and university board
members are appointed by the governor.
The issue of gay protections has been a
hot topic at the Virginia Statehouse since Republican Governor Bob
McDonnell assumed office. As one of his first acts as governor,
omitted such protections for state workers. McDonnell's February
5 executive order replaced policies by Virginia's last two Democratic
governors which included employment protections for gay and lesbian
Lawmakers attempted to restore the
protections with three slightly-varied measures, but
members of a Republican-controlled House subcommittee killed the
bills. Last month, Democratic senators, with the aid of one
Republican, Senator Fred Quayle, approved a bill that would have
protected gay state employees from discrimination, but the bill was
quashed in the House.
All of Virginia's leading schools
provide such protections.
Virginia, the state's largest gay advocate, called on public
schools to ignore Cuccinelli's letter.
“They call it legal advice for a
reason,” Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, general counsel for the group,
said in a statement. “I urge the university boards to get a second
opinion before they take action that will adversely affect their
ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest students.”
In a letter sent to all public
universities and colleges, the ACLU of Virginia countered that gay
men and lesbians are protected against governmental discrimination by
the U.S. Constitution.
“Regardless of state law or policy,
not only should universities prohibit discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation, but they are required to do so under the U.S.
Constitution,” Kent Willis, executive director of the group, said
in a statement.
the letter, written by Rebecca K. Glenberg, the group's legal
director, the ACLU of Virginia says that the Supreme Court “held
that discriminatory laws based on sheer animus toward lesbian and gay
persons violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment” in Romer V. Evans.
“If Ken Cuccinelli is trying to say
that the U.S. Constitution doesn't apply in Virginia, his first
significant act as attorney general is a giant step backwards and a
huge embarrassment for the state,” Willis added.