Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has directed state agencies not to discriminate against gay people in the area of employment, the AP reported.

McDonnell's directive overrides Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II's recent letter to public colleges and universities calling such protections illegal.

The Republican governor signed a February 5 executive order which banned employment discrimination for state workers based on race, sex, religion and age, but not sexual orientation. It replaced orders by Virginia's last two Democratic governors which included protections for gay and lesbian workers.

Cuccinelli, a Republican who took office in January, last week called on the state's colleges and universities to rescind anti-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation.

“It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or 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.”

On Wednesday, more than 1000 students rallied at Richmond's Virginia Commonwealth University and another 200 at the Statehouse to protest Cuccinelli's position, which he had defended as late as Monday, saying that he's not out to be popular.

“My job as Attorney General is to advise our various arms of state government what the law is and that's what I was doing and will continue to do that and will be true to the law whether people like it or not,” Cuccinelli said in a telephone interview with local Roanoke NBC affiliate WSLS 10. “My job isn't to be popular, it's to correctly interpret the law for my clients”

McDonnell told reporters that he wanted to clarify his administration's position on employment discrimination in the wake of Cuccinelli's letter.

“I felt it was necessary to make sure that every Virginian, every state employee know that we will not tolerate discrimination,” he said. “We will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other basis that's outlawed under state or federal law or the Constitution, and if it is reported, then I will take action, from reprimand to termination, to make sure that does not occur.”

This session, House lawmakers have rejected three slightly-varied measures that sought to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender protections).