Attorney General Mark R. Herring is defending the Virginia Values Act in the Eastern District of Virginia and has filed an opposition to the preliminary injunction and a memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss in the case Updegrove v. Herring.
As Attorney General Herring explains, “[t]he Virginia General Assembly…[took]…affirmative steps to guard against discrimination…aiming to foster a more inclusive Commonwealth free from the sort of unequal treatment that has long infected public life.” Attorney General Herring also highlights that, “[t]he expanded legal protections for LGBTQ people in the Virginia Values Act are also consistent with public opinion. According to a survey in 2018, 68% of Virginians ‘support policies that would protect LGBT people from discrimination.’”
“The passage of the Virginia Values Act was a truly historic moment for the Commonwealth, when Virginia became the first southern state to pass such important protections,” said Attorney General Herring. “We are all Virginians and we all deserve to live in this Commonwealth without the fear of being discriminated against because of what we look like, who we love, where we come from, or how we worship. I will do everything in my power to defend the Virginia Values Act and make sure that it continues to protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community.”
Attorney General Herring explains the importance of the Virginia Values Act in the filing saying, “‘[o]ur society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth’…earlier this year the Commonwealth of Virginia acknowledged that principle by adopting the Virginia Values Act – a law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation for the first time in Virginia’s history. The Act also declares that all Virginians have a right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations and that no one may be turned away from a public-facing business on account of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation.” Attorney General Herring adds that, “[t]he General Assembly significantly expanded [its] anti-discrimination protections available under Virginia law by adopting the Virginia Values Act.”
In the filing, Attorney General Herring notes that, even though Congress has passed federal anti-discrimination laws, states are still “at the forefront of the fight against unequal treatment based on immutable characteristics.” He adds that, with the passage of the Virginia Values Act, the General Assembly “significantly expanded the anti-discrimination protections under [the Virginia Human Rights Act]” that “‘safeguard[s] all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, or disability.’” Attorney General Herring then explains that “[t]he Virginia Human Rights Act (including the Virginia Values Act) is enforced by the Division of Human Rights in the Office of the Attorney General…by investigat[ing] complaints of unlawful discrimination, mak[ing] determinations about whether there is reasonable cause to believe state or federal laws have been violated, and facilitat[ing] conciliation efforts among the parties to resolve disputes.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring details the importance of the Virginia Values Act in protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation saying that, “anti-LGBTQ discrimination has long been a feature of American society…Despite progress in recent decades, this discrimination persists. In 2016, a national survey showed that 1 in 4 LGBT people had experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity within the prior year, and that 68.5% of those who had experienced discrimination reported that it had ‘at least somewhat negatively affected their psychological well-being.” Attorney General Herring adds that, “Virginia’s record is no better. Although the Commonwealth has more than 300,000 LGBT residents, an analysis from January 2020 – before the Virginia Values Act was enacted – concluded that Virginia ranked 24th in the nation in terms of ‘[s]ocial acceptance of LGB people’ and that ‘historical anti-LGBT laws likely have lingering negatives effects on the social climate for LGBT people.’ A study from 2014 that examined the prevalence of discrimination in housing in Richmond showed that opposite-sex couples were treated more favorably than same-sex couples 44% of the time.”
In the filing, Attorney General Herring points out that, “anti-discrimination laws have been adopted and implemented at both the state and federal levels without running afoul of the constitutional guarantee of free speech…the Virginia Values Act prohibits specific discriminatory acts but has nothing to say about any particular message or expression. In other words…the Act regulates conduct not speech; it does not compel plaintiff to engage in speech with which he disagrees; and it is content neutral.”
Attorney General Herring concludes by saying that, “[i]n the Human Rights Act, the General Assembly expressly declared that ‘[i]t is the policy of the Commonwealth to…[s]afeguard all individuals…from unlawful discrimination…in places of public accommodation.’…[if] the Court does not dismiss the complaint, enjoining any part of the public accommodation law while this litigation proceeds would frustrate public policy as adopted by the General Assembly and leave at least some Virginians vulnerable to discrimination.”