The administration of Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is doubling down on its anti-gay reputation, telling the state’s colleges and universities to scrap policies that ban discrimination against gay employees.
In a letter to the state’s institutions of higher learning, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argues that the schools lack the legal authority to ban anti-gay discrimination, because only the state legislature can do so, the Washington Post reported over the weekend. That’s a step that the GOP-controlled legislature recently declined to take.
Last month, McDonnell, a socially conservative Republican, rescinded an executive order, promulgated by the previous governor, Democrat Tim Kaine, that prohibited discrimination against gay state workers.
In the letter, which Cuccinelli said was written to clear up any confusion about the state’s position, he wrote:
It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.
All of Virginia’s largest schools, according to the Post, have policies that prohibit anti-gay discrimination. But Cuccinelli wrote that they have done so “without proper authority” and urged them to “take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia.”
Democrats and gay-rights groups have slammed Cuccinelli’s letter. Sen. Mark Warner, a former governor, said in a statement that he was “puzzled” by the move, and that it would “damage the Commonwealth’s reputation for academic excellence and diversity.” And a gay rights group has called on McDonnell to introduce a bill that would specifically ban anti-gay discrimination against state workers. “Repeating that you believe discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong no longer carries any weight,” wrote the executive director of Equality Virginia.
McDonnell’s office has said little about Cuccinelli’s letter. When he was attorney general, McDonnell also took the position that only the legislature could create new classes of legal protections — and has long opposed efforts to change the law, according to the Post. But he never specifically told the state’s universities to rescind protections for gays, as Cuccinelli’s letter does.
Last month, Cuccinelli angered Democrats and environmentalists by filing suit against the EPA, alleging that it lacks the legal authority to regulate global warming pollution. He was one of several state attorneys general to do so.