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Virginia Senate Passes Bill That Provides For Discrimination By Marriage Officiants

Senator Ebbin confers with SB 41 Patron Charles W. "Bill" Carrico (R-Grayson) on the Senate Floor (Bob Brown/AP)
Senator Adam Ebbin Denounces Vote as “Bigotry Cloaked Under the Guise of Religious Freedom”

February 12, 2016

Sam Bosch and Chris Leyen
Office of Senator Adam Ebbin
Work: 804-698-7530

Richmond, VA — Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) expressed deep concern following the party-line vote to pass SB41, legislation that would allow marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnize a marriage if doing so would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Ebbin said, “This bill is thoroughly unnecessary. It sanctions discrimination by government employees. We are the birthplace of the Statute for Religious Freedom. We enjoy one of the richest histories of any state when it comes to that freedom. Proposals like these — licenses to discriminate — desecrate the very things they claim to protect. This bill carves out a space for bigotry cloaked under the guise of religious freedom.”

If SB41 were to become law, it would allow all persons authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in Virginia, including judges and public officiants, to refuse to conduct marriages that violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Ebbin continued, “The legislation would allow judges to turn away certain couples at the courthouse door. Government officials should not be allowed to pick and choose which of their duties they will fulfill or which services they will provide and to whom, especially when the result would be blatant discrimination and the service to be denied involves a fundamental human right. Nor should government employees be allowed to impose their personal religious beliefs on those whom they serve.”

Senator Ebbin said that Virginians are already well-protected against government discrimination based on religion by the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbids government entities from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. He added that the state should not, and under existing law it does not, force clergy and houses of worship to perform or host marriage ceremonies with which they have religious objections.

The bill narrowly passed the Senate 20-19, with one member not present for the vote, and now heads to the House of Delegates for their consideration.

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Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin took office in January 2012 after serving for eight years in the House of Delegates. He represents the 30th Senate District, which is home to 200,000 Virginians in Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County’s Mount Vernon and Lee Magisterial Districts. The district borders the Potomac River and includes Reagan National Airport, Old Town Alexandria and George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate. In the General Assembly, Adam serves on three committees: General Laws and Technology; Privileges and Elections; and Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. He is also a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and a founding member of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention.