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Council Supports Gay Rights*

*Just those rights that are already legal, as it relates to hiring.

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On Tuesday Richmond City Council issued an official proclamation: June 2013 is Richmond Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

The proclamation included soaring statements about equality in the city, noting among other things that Richmond is a diverse community and “each of us should have the same equal rights, benefits and responsibilities that are shared and enjoyed by all.”

Later at the same meeting the feel-good rhetoric came back down to earth and met the cold, hard reality of life on the ground in the Commonwealth of Virginia when the council adopted a draft of new personnel rules for city employees that had been edited to soften a statement of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation.

As originally drafted, the document stated that among its goals is “to provide equal employment opportunity to City employees and applicants for employment on the basis of merit and fitness without regard to:

… race, age, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, disability or membership in other protected groups or any other condition which might constitute illegal discrimination.

The amendment adopted by council adds a parenthetical disclaimer behind the words sexual orientation: “to the extent now or hereafter permitted or required by law.”

What happened?

City Attorney Allen Jackson says current state law does not authorize localities to create a “protected class” based on sexual orientation. He says he’s not sure how the words made it into the original document -- but he said the amendment was put in to bring the city back into compliance with state law and so the document wouldn’t have to be edited “in case the state law changes.”

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