By Samuel Smith , CP Reporter
February 18, 2016|6:32 pm

Virginia State House in Richmond, Virginia (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Virginia State House in Richmond, Virginia

The Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation on Tuesday that aims to prohibit government agencies from being able to punish individuals and businesses that act in accordance with their religious convictions on homosexuality and transgenderism.

The bill's umbrella of protection is vast as it would protect the religious belief of "any individual, corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, limited liability company, trust, joint venture, society, organization, or any other legal or commercial entity and any successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality thereof."

As Christian wedding vendors in other states like Washington and Oregon have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, Virginia's Government Nondiscrimination Act would effectively prevent such penalties from being issued to those business owners who stand strong in their beliefs on marriage.

The bill would also protect religious colleges from government crackdowns against their strict policies forbidding homosexuality and premarital cohabitation.

The legislation would prohibit the state from issuing any fines, taxes or penalties against individuals and businesses who act according to their belief of traditional marriage or their belief that men and women are identified by their biological birth.

Additionally, the state would not be allowed to deny a grant, contract, loan, scholarship, license, accreditation or employment to any organization or individual on the basis of their beliefs on sexuality.

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates passed the measure 56-41 on Tuesday.

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a government entity shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, in whole or in part, on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that (i) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, (ii) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage, or (iii) the male sex and the term 'man' and the female sex and the term 'woman' refer to an individual's biological sex as determined at birth," the bill states.

The bill has been sent to the state Senate. However, the legislation doesn't appear to have enough support to override an expected veto by Virginia's Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The bill does not protect "officials of a government entity acting within the scope of their official duties," or hospitals, hospices, nursing homes or "other medical residential custodial facilities with respect to decisions regarding visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making."

The legislation came under intense opposition from liberals in the House despite its passing.

"This is a violation of the establishment clause plain and simple," quoted Demoratic Del. Marcus Simon as saying. "This is exactly what the court and the Supreme Court has said we can't do."

The bill's sponsor, Del. Todd Gilbert, defended his bill in an interview with the Associated Press by arguing that the legislation is vital to protecting the religious liberties of people of faith, which are "constantly under attack by the shifting cultural winds."

"The activists who pursue same-sex marriage ... are not satisfied with equality and they will not be satisfied until people of faith are driven out of this discourse, are made to cower, are made to be in fear of speaking their minds," Gilbert said. "They want us driven out."

A poll conducted by Christopher Newport University released last week found that 57 percent of Virginians oppose the pending legislation that would allow businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples.