Gay rights' surprise ally in Va.

Our view: Gov. McDonnell makes a sweeping statement in favor of equality under law

March 13, 2010

There are two interesting things about Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's executive directive this week banning discrimination in the state government's personnel actions on the basis of sexual orientation. The first is that Mr. McDonnell, pilloried during the 2009 campaign for the conservative social views expressed in his graduate thesis, would take such an action at all. And the second is the broad reasoning he used to support it.

Mr. McDonnell gained national attention last fall when his opponent, Democrat Creigh Deeds, started making an issue of the Republican's thesis as a graduate student at Regent University, which, among other things, took a dim view of "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." And as attorney general, Mr. McDonnell had held that only the legislature could extend legal protections to gays. That stance was similar to the one taken recently by current Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He sent a letter earlier this month to public colleges and universities in Virginia advising them to remove any language from their discrimination policies related to sexual orientation, setting off an uproar on campuses across the state.

The executive directive seems to have largely quashed that, with campus officials and advocacy groups (other than the Virginia Democratic Party) expressing at least qualified support for Mr. McDonnell's action. It isn't everything one might hope for -- an executive directive is less than an executive order and does not carry the force of law. Furthermore, Mr. McDonnell has not acquiesced to calls from lawmakers and others to submit a bill that would codify the anti-discrimination policy.

But even if this step had modest legal force, it was backed up by a clear and sweeping affirmation of gay rights. Governor McDonnell wrote: "The Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits discrimination without a rational basis against any class of persons. Discrimination based on factors such as one's sexual orientation or parental status violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution."

Although this was surely not Governor McDonnell's intent, it is hard to see how banning gay marriage would comport with that statement.

Why did Governor McDonnell take this step? Was it simply to quell the campus protests? Was it fear that the uproar would hurt Virginia's business climate? (Some students had begun a letter-writing campaign to persuade Northrop Grumman not to move its headquarters to Virginia because of Mr. Cuccinelli's letter.) Was it a genuine evolution of Governor McDonnell's beliefs? Whatever the case, he deserves credit for taking a step he didn't have to take.

Readers respond

This was a sign of weakness and not to Governor McDonnell's credit. To say that the Equal Protection Clause was intended for perverts and homosexuals is simply wrong.

Steve

Steve, I'm wondering, am I a "pervert" or a "homosexual"? Or am I just a gay man who has never regretted moving my home (and tax obligation, by the way) from Virginia to Baltimore in 2004?

BankStreet

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