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McDonnell: No Discrimination Against Gays (Really?)

VA Governor Bob McDonnell (whose topsy-turvy actions on gay rights I’ve chronicled here) now says that there would be no need for a state law protecting the LGBT community against discrimination.  Why not? According to this quote (h/t Joe.My.God), there’s no problem in need of a solution:

I don’t know that we need it based on the numbers that I’ve seen….There really isn’t any rampant discrimination on any basis in Virginia. If you’re going to have a law, it needs to actually address a real problem.

This is a very prosecutorial/attorney-general way of looking at the issue: We only see cases that are reported, brought, and litigated. There’s something to this approach. After all, discrimination laws have a cost (suits can be frivolous, and give bad employees an “out” for lousy work), so we at least want a real problem before we’re going to pass a law.

Unfortunately, the McDonnell approach is staggeringly limited and naive. First, by the logic of his statement, there should be no anti-discrimination laws on the books: If there’s no “rampant discrimination on any basis,” then we should repeal all of the laws, given the cost I mentioned above.

I doubt McDonnell would support such repeal efforts, though. Why? I can think of three reasons, all of which are likely at work here. First, he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. Second, it may be that there’s no way to repeal laws banning discrimination based on sex, race, religion, etc., without ensuring a swift, forced political retirement. (Compare: anti-gay discrimination.) Third, he realizes that laws have an important symbolic, messaging effect.

Of course they do. And enacting a law protecting against sexual orientation discrimination would send a powerful, state-sponsored message that the state stands with its LGBT citizens (although I’d be surprised if “T” were to be included) and against unjustified discrimination. McDonnell himself has conceded this point in the Executive Directive he signed a couple of weeks ago, affirming an anti-discrimination commitment (albeit not an enforceable one.)

But that’s not even the best reason to pass such a law. McDonnell doesn’t see — or pretends not to, anyway — that anti-gay discrimination is insidious. Gays and lesbians are much likelier to remain closeted in states where they can be fired just for being gay. And closeted people don’t claim discrimination, because you can’t discriminate against something invisible. But that just means that the discrimination is of a different, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” sort, not that it doesn’t exist.

Moreover, anyone who was discriminated against would be very unlikely to report it in a state that doesn’t protect the reporter. You’re demoted, transferred, or passed over for promotion because you’re a lesbian? A few may turn to the ACLU, Lambda Legal, or some other civil right organization, but most will swallow the discrimination and soldier on, having few occupational choices and no legal recourse.

Does any of that count as a problem, Governor?


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