The Virginia Senate has passed legislation that would prevent the government from punishing religious organizations and individuals who uphold the traditional view of marriage.
SB 1324, introduced by Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., was passed by a narrow vote of 21–19. Carrico said that the bill was necessary to protect religious organizations from being sued or penalized because of their beliefs.
"And not discriminating against them because of that belief, I believe, is important to our Constitution and important to the economy of Virginia," said Carrico, according to Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Last week, the Virginia House of Delegates approved a similar bill, HB 2025, which was introduced by Del. Nick Freitas.
Both legislations came after Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order in January that prohibits the state from giving contracts to entities that do not have anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.
The executive order was criticized by several conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups such as the Family Foundation of Virginia, which said that the order was nothing more than an "act of blatant religious bigotry."
McAuliffe, who has vetoed 71 bills during his two years as a governor, said that he will veto any legislation that would discriminate against LGBTQ people.
"It's not about doing the most vetoes of any governor in Virginia history," the governor said on Tuesday at a reception hosted by pro-LGBT group Equality Virginia. "We're stopping people from doing things that discriminate against people's basic rights," he added.
Democrats criticized Republicans for approving the bill, saying it would give individuals and organizations the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.
"Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has absolutely no place in the commonwealth, and I am disappointed that a Republican-majority in the Senate approved SB 1324 today," said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual advocacy group, decried Carrico's bill and branded it as an "attack on fairness and equality in Virginia" that "is part of an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills" across the country.
The Virginia Catholic Conference described SB 1324 and HB 2025 as "top-priority" legislation because it would protect the right of religious organizations to uphold traditional teachings on marriage without being penalized by the government.