Prince William supervisors had to adjust the county code to comply with the Virginia Values Act, a new state law that provides sweeping nondiscrimination protections to gay and transgender residents. But the county board split along party lines in adopting the changes.
The Virginia Values Act, which goes into effect July 1, makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations and access to credit. To comply with the new state law, supervisors had to amend the county code to deny tax exemptions to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
The board voted 5-2 on June 16 to adopt the changes, with all five Democrats voting in favor of the code changes and two of the board’s three Republicans voting against them. Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, was absent from the meeting and did not vote.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said she voted against the changes because she believes the changes to county and state law are “discriminatory.”
“I’m one of many, many people that feel we are now being discriminated for our Christian views, our Biblical views. And the taxation policy, in particular, would discriminate against a biblical ministry that I support and many, many other Virginians support,” Lawson said.
Lawson did not say which nonprofit she was referring to, or how they would be impacted by the changes to the county’s tax exemption policy.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, said he was in favor of the changes. Boddye noted that workplace protections for people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity are not only mandated by the state but had also been recently upheld in the United States Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling.
“This is just following what’s already been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court and the state,” Boddye said.
The Supreme Court ruled June 15 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate because of a person's sex, among other factors, also covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The majority opinion was written by President Donald Trump's first appointee to the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Lawson responded by saying that Biblical principle was “under attack” and that she did not agree with the Supreme Court ruling. Lawson said she agreed with the dissenting opinions from Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito.
“I’m just simply stating that I don’t like what the General Assembly passed any more than I like what the Supreme Court passed,” Lawson said.
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, who also voted against the changes, asked county staff to address how the amendments to county code would impact the tax-exempt status of religious organizations in the county.
A staff member from the county attorney’s office, Deborah Siegel, said she did not know which organizations receive tax exemptions under the existing county policy. Siegel said that the county code is being changed “simply because the state code was changed.”
“Whether we put this in the county code or not, we still cannot give that tax exemption because the state code will reflect that,” Siegel said.
It is already illegal in Virginia to grant tax exemptions to organizations that unlawfully discriminate on the basis of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin. The new law adds sexual orientation and gender identity to this list.
In a subsequent vote, the supervisors voted to declare June 2020 LGBTQ+ Pride month in Prince William County. That measure also split the board along party lines with all five Democrats voting in favor of the measure and Lawson and Vega voting against it.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org