A group of Catholic bishops criticized Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia for vetoing a “religious freedom” bill on April 4. The bishops say that without the measure, religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage will not have legal protections.
The bill reportedly would have barred the state from punishing religious organizations for discriminating against gay couples, reports The Washington Post.
The Virginia Catholic Conference claims the governor’s action infringes on its religious liberty, reports Christian Today.
“This veto risks the destruction of Virginia’s long tradition of upholding the religious freedom of faith communities which dates back to Thomas Jefferson,” said the group in a statement.
The governor said the bill would invite discrimination and harm Virginia’s economy.
“It’s unconstitutional. It is discriminatory. It demonizes folks,” said McAuliffe on WTOP’s radio show. “It brings fear and persecution. We can’t tolerate that.”
The governor added that businesses in the state have voiced opposition to the bill, and might have moved jobs out of Virginia.
“We need Virginia to be open and welcoming to everyone,” said McAuliffe.
Catholic leaders said that the bill would not affect businesses and only apply to religious groups. The bishops said the governor “marginalizes religious believers who hold to the timeless truth about marriage,” in a statement.
Republican State Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr. said the bill was intended to protect religious Virginians from “persecution.”
“It’s just a matter of time, I feel, before someone tries to sue the church,” Carrico told The Washington Post. “I think you see a trend around the country right now to promote homosexual beliefs, and I think you see you see that trend happening on a wide-scale basis.”
Gay rights activists voiced alarm that the bill passed the state legislature in the first place.
“The majority of Virginians believe in fairness and equality, and it is discouraging to see so many of our legislators unwilling to stand with them for what is right by passing discriminatory legislation,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, in a statement.
The Virginia governor’s veto comes after Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed a similar “religious freedom” bill the week of March 28.