Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a measure on Wednesday that would have offered legal protection to citizens who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
In a press release, McAuliffe said that, although the measure, Senate Bill 41, was "couched as a 'religious freedom' bill," he vetoed it because he believed the bill was actually "nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize" the state's gay community.
The legislation would have given religious organization, clergy, volunteers, and paid staff members the right to refuse to officiate at, or provide services to, gay and lesbian wedding ceremonies if such ceremonies were contrary to their religious beliefs. The bill also shielded objectors from civil and criminal penalties.
In addition to his constitutional objections, McAuliffe also called the bill bad for business.
"Businesses and job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate," he said. "Legislation that immunizes the discriminatory actions of certain people and institutions at the expense of same-sex couples would damage Virginia’s reputation for commonsense, pro-business government."
McAuliffe pointed to similar legislation in other states that has generated both controversy, and threats of economic boycott.
On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill similar to the one proposed in Virginia. Before Deal's veto, the National Football League threatened to reconsider Atlanta as a possible site for the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020 if Deal had signed the bill.
However, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill earlier in March that prevents local governments in the state from passing ordinances banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens.
A coalition of more than 80 businesses, including high-tech giants Facebook and Apple, sent a letter to McCrory under the aegis of the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina, saying the bill <<< "diminish[es] the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity."
The Family Foundation, a prominent backer of Virginia's religious freedom bill was quick to react to McAuliffe's veto.
“When the Supreme Court redefined marriage throughout America, it did not say that private schools, charities, businesses, or individuals must abandon their beliefs if they disagree,” said the organization's president, Victoria Cobb.
“Charitable religious organizations should be treated fairly; not targeted and punished by the government because of their beliefs about marriage," Cobb added. "The faith that inspires their charitable service shouldn’t be used by the government to discriminate against them.”