Panel backs ‘religious freedom’ to reject same-sex marriage

Government officials who are authorized to perform marriages could refuse to marry same-sex couples under a bill approved Monday by the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee over the objections of LGBT advocates.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Virginia and other groups opposed Senate Bill 41, which also states that religious organizations and their employees may deny “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” for a marriage if it would “violate a sincerely held religious belief.”

Splitting along party lines, the committee voted 8-7 in favor of SB 41, which was sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax. All of the Republicans on the panel voted for the bill; all of the Democrats voted against it.

Carrico filed the legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June to legalize same-sex marriages. He said it would protect “religious freedom” by letting people and groups who have religious objections to same-sex marriage refuse to participate in such ceremonies.

“Our founders got it right,” Carrico said at a press conference last month. “They didn’t want to infringe upon those deep-held beliefs. They didn’t expect the government to step in and say to an individual, because you have this deep-held belief that you have to do X, Y and Z.”

But opponents of SB 41 said it would allow discrimination against same-sex couples even by government officials who are supposed to uphold the law.

“We think that it is unconstitutional in that respect because it allows public officials to deny services to groups of people based on their personal beliefs,” Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, told the Senate committee.

The Human Rights Act in Virginia already forbids discriminate based on religion. And under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ministers already have the right to refuse to marry a couple based on their religious beliefs.

“That’s what the legislators supporting SB41 are saying they are concerned about, but that’s not true. This bill is in conflict of existing law,” Gastañaga said. “It also extends beyond existing law by specifically allowing even judges to limit what they do by saying that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.”

Equality Virginia, an advocacy group for gay Virginians, and Right Way Forward Virginia also oppose SB 41, according to statements they have posted on Richmond Sunlight, a legislative information website.

Right Way Forward Virginia said the bill would “help perpetuate a commonly-held misconception that equal treatment under law of same-sex couples who wish to marry imposes obligations on houses of worship and clergy.”

The members of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee who voted for SB 41 were Republican Sens. Frank Ruff of Clarksville, Dick Black of Leesburg, Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach, Tom Garrett of Lynchburg, Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania, Richard Stuart of Westmoreland, David Suetterlein of Salem and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester.

The committee members who opposed the bill were Democratic Sens. George Barker and Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Jeremy McPike of Dale City, Chap Petersen of Fairfax, Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon and Jennifer Wexton of Leesburg.
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Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27


The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair


Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

Henrico Police to participate in ‘Tip a Cop’ Oct. 21


Henrico County Police Division and the Virginia Division of Capitol Police are participating in “Tip-A-Cop” to Support the Special Olympics Saturday, Oct. 21.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. that day at Red Robin, 11784 West Broad Street, members of the two agencies will be working for tips as a donation to the Special Olympics. > Read more.

Participants sought for ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’


The Richmond Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held Saturday, Nov. 4, at Markel Plaza in Innsbrook, and the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Richmond is seeking participants.

The event, one of three walks the association will hold in its service area this year (the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck walk was held Oct. 7 and the Fredericksburg walk Oct. 14) raises money to help the association fight the disease, which affects more than 26,000 people in the metro Richmond region. > Read more.

Fairfield meeting Oct. 25 to focus on cybersecurity


Henrico County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman and Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton will hold a constituent meeting Wednesday, Oct. 25 to discuss cybersecurity.

Thornton also has invited candidates who will be seeking election to local offices on Tuesday, Nov. 7 to introduce themselves. > Read more.

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CAT Theatre, 319 N. Wilkinson Rd. in Henrico, will present “Artoberfest: Dance, Drama and Beyond” at 8 p.m. Oct. 6-7. This festival features dance shorts from KDance, short plays and monologues from CAT, original songs from VOCAL (Virginia Organization of Composers and Lyricists) and quilt displays from Crazy Quilters. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, students and RVATA members. For details, visit http://www.cattheatre.com. Full text

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