Virginia has passed a law that extends anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, reportedly the first southern state to do so.
Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Values Act, also known as Senate Bill 868, into law on Saturday after it was passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature.
In a statement released last Saturday, Northam said that the new law “sends a strong, clear message” that “Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”
“We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly,” he said. “No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”
Democratic Senator Adam Ebbin, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement he believed the new law was necessary “during times of crisis like these.”
“When jobs are scarce and housing unaffordable, the reality of who you are must be an additional hurdle to putting food on the table or providing shelter for your family. This law provides important new protections,” stated Ebbin.
Critics of the legislation argued that, if enacted, the Values Act might threaten the religious liberty of those who are morally opposed to homosexuality and transgenderism.
Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation, a socially conservative group, previously denounced the passage of the bill earlier this year in a statement.
“In his dissent to the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision inventing a right to marriage, Justice Alito warned that some would use that decision to 'stamp out every vestige of dissent,’” stated Cobb, as reported by WTVR.
“The Virginia General Assembly today passed legislation that empowers the Attorney General to do just that. The Family Foundation is already preparing to defend religious Virginians who are attacked for their faith.”
In addition to the Values Act, the state government also recently passed a law banning sexual orientation change efforts therapy for LGBT minors.
The measure, also known as House Bill 386, was signed into law by Northam in March. In previous General Assembly sessions, when Republicans held a majority, the proposed legislation had failed.