Virginia passes a slew of bills – Big changes made in LGBTQ+ rights, marijuana, gun control, hair and more


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Helen Ehrlich, News Editor

Virginia’s legislature turned entirely blue for the first time in 26 years, shaking the state in a bold Progressive wave (read more about it here). Rapid changes have been made during this time, making Virginia a beacon of Democratic values and legislation in the South. Numerous bills have been signed by Governor Ralph Northam in multiple areas of policy that Virginia has stalled to address for years.


One of the boldest changes signed by the Governor is the expansion of LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections. The passing of the Virginia Values Act makes Virginia the first state in the South to ban LGBTQ+ discrimination. Senator Adam Ebbin from Alexandria, who sponsored the bill, is the first openly gay person to be elected to Virginia’s General Assembly. Federal law only protects employees who work at companies that employ over 15 people, but this act provides state protection for complaints from those who work at businesses with between six and 14 employees. This law also protects against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Conservative action groups claim that this infringes upon opposing values in Virginia, and that it will make Virginia less appealing to companies. Governor Northam stated, “This legislation sends a strong, clear message—Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.” Virginia has also completely banned the use of “conversion therapy” on minors, a practice that is supposed to force LGBTQ people to abandon their identities, which has proven to be dangerous for LGBTQ youth. Virginia has also passed a bill pledging to create “model policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools.” The state has also repealed the block of same-sex marriages and civil unions, which was previously overturned by the Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, which federally legalized same-sex marriage in the Unted States in 2015.


Gun control is a tense topic around the country, but especially in Virginia. Fairfax County, Virginia is home to the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA has been deemed the most powerful lobbying firm in the country, by Fortune Magazine three years in a row. Competing with this is Everytown For Gun Safety, which was the biggest financial contributor in Virginia’s state election. Gun control was a heavy issue on many minds during Virginia’s last election, as the state was still grappling with the pain of the Virginia Beach mass shooting. Despite massive pushback from gun groups, Northam signed seven gun control bills into effect.  (Read more about these bills here.) This package of bills demands the following: Background checks for private firearm sales and transfers, mandatory reporting of any loss or theft of firearms within 24 hours, the right for localities to possess the ability to adopt or enforce restrictions/motions regarding firearms, Red Flag Laws, that citizens may only purchase one handgun per month, that there are now firearms prohibitions for those under permanent protective orders, the intensification of the punishment for allowing a child to access to a loaded and unsecured firearm has rising from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony and the legal age of child is raised from 14 to 18.

Abortion and the right to choose has been a hot issue in the United States (US) for a long time, but it became a particularly prevalent issue in Virginia when yearbook photos of Governor Northam doing blackface leaked after a former classmate of his was outraged by his stance on abortion, according to Business Insider. The Virginia House and Senate have passed a bill to remove regulations requiring pregnant people to get an ultrasound at least 24 hours before getting an abortion and to get alternative option counseling. They have also removed the mandate that all facilities that perform five or more abortions a year must be considered hospitals.


Virginia has a very complicated and systemically oppressive history, as most states unfortunately do, and the remnants of this have remained in the Code of Virginia for decades. The state has now officially repealed some of the laws of Virginia’s past. Virginia has become the fourth state in the US to make it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their hair. The state has removed racist language and segregationist provisions regarding students. They have also removed the mandatory mention of race on marriage records in the state. Additionally, they have removed the law that makes it a crime to have sexual relations of any kind with an unmarried person and made it legal to swear in public in Virginia (read more about that here).

two protesters holding signs that say "Stop racist policing" and "Don't criminalize our youth"
Image via ACLU of Virginia

Additionally, the state has concluded that tax paying residents of Virginia may obtain legal driving licenses without legal citizenship (read more here). They have also decriminalized cannabis (read more about that here), becoming the third Southern state to do so.


These changes primarily take effect on July 1st, marking the legal beginning of numerous changes in Virginia’s rocky and complex history.


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