Did Cuccinelli ask William and Mary to overturn sexual orientation policy?
In a letter urging Northrop Grumman not to choose Virginia for the site of its new corporate headquarters, a Maryland state senator claims that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is trying to get universities to overturn policies barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The assertion was neither confirmed nor denied Friday by Cuccinelli's office or the College of William and Mary, the institution to which the senator, in an interview, said he was referring.
In a letter to the CEO of the company, Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) cited Cuccinelli's purported advice to colleges as one sign the state has been "turning back the clock" on gay rights since the inauguration of Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in January. He said Maryland would be a better fit for the company, which has a national reputation for being friendly to gay employees.
"Virginia's new Attorney General is reportedly seeking to have Virginia's universities rescind their policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation," he wrote.
In an interview, Madaleno said he had heard from associates in Virginia that William and Mary had received legal advice from Cuccinelli regarding its nondiscrimination statement.
Brian Whitson, a spokesman for William and Mary, said it was university policy not to comment on any legal advice given to the public school by the attorney general's office, which formally serves as its counsel. He said he could not confirm whether the school has received any guidance from Cuccinelli on the issue and referred questions about the attorney general's position to his office.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck James Friday also would not confirm whether such a memo exists, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
James and Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein did say, however, that it has been the longstanding opinion of the attorney general's office that the authority to extend legal protections on the sexual orientation rests with the General Assembly, which has repeatedly declined to pass legislation to do so.
"There's been consistent advice from the attorney general's office for more than a decade: the General Assembly is the only authority that can determine protected classes," Gottstein said. "It is a legislative determination and Virginia universities and colleges have no authority to determine what are protected classes in Virginia."
According to Whitson, there are no plans to remove language about sexual orientation from William and Mary's existing policy. The Faculty Assembly recently asked that the policy be expanded to also include "gender identity and expression," a request the school's president is now examining.
"We're working on a way to do it in a way that relates only to William and Mary and avoids the appearance of trying to set policy beyond our campus," Whitson said. "With or without the clarification, we do not discriminate at William and Mary."
Representatives for other Virginia schools, including the University of Virginia, George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University, have all said recently that they have not been sent any memos or opinions from the attorney general's office regarding their nondiscrimination policies, which each include language dealing with sexual orientation.
Equality Virginia has scheduled a news conference for Monday dealing with the Northrop issue and the General Assembly's actions on legislation dealing with extending legal protections to gay state employees.
The group will be circulating a letter from its executive director to Northrop CEO Wes Bush.
February 27, 2010; 12:28 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Ken Cuccinelli , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate
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