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UPDATED: Senator claims McDonnell created atmosphere conducive to Westboro anti-gay protest

Rosalind Helderman

A state senator alleged today that actions by Gov. Bob McDonnell on gay rights issues have helped "create an atmosphere" that has led to planned protests tomorrow at the Virginia Holocaust Museum and other locations by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the much-criticized Kansas church that stages protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers and elsewhere against expansion of rights to homosexuals.

Speaking at a news conference hosted this morning by Equality Virginia to highlight support for a bill that would extend legal protections against discrimination to gay state employees, Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) said he thinks there has been a substantive change for gay citizens in Virginia since McDonnell took office Jan. 16.

McDonnell has said his administration will not discriminate, but issued a non-discrimination executive order that did not include protections on the basis of sexual orientation, a departure from the orders issued by his two Democratic predecessors.

"I think there is an atmosphere that's being created that has been regrettably caused by the McDonnell administration. It's been exacerbated by the issuance of the executive order, where what we have is we have so-called church members coming to Richmond tomorrow to protest and picket and say things about the Jewish community and the gay community," McEachin said.

Asked afterward to confirm his belief that McDonnell's actions have helped spur the protests, McEachin said, "Absolutely, I do." And when told that the governor might be offended by that idea, McEachin said, "I'm offended by some of the things he's done."

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell, called McEachin's comment "shameful" and said they were not worthy of further response. As attorney general, McDonnell warned members of the Westboro church that they could be arrested if they disrupted the funerals of victims of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.

McEachin was joined by other legislators and representatives of a variety of groups, including the American Association of University Professors, the AARP and the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, which are pushing for the adoption of his bill.

McDonnell has said he believes only the General Assembly can extend legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation, and executive orders issued by Gov. Mark Warner (D) and Gov. Tim Kaine were therefore illegal. McEachin said he thus "took the governor" at his word and sponsored a bill to do just that. An identical measure sponsored by Del. Adam Ebbin (D) has been killed by a subcommittee of the House; McEachin's bill is scheduled to be heard by the same subcommittee tomorrow.

At the news conference, the advocates noted that some in Maryland are now urging Northrop Grumman to reject Virginia as a site for its new headquarters because of the state's position on gay rights.

At a separate news conference this morning, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) responded to the idea that the defense giant might be swayed by such pressure: "I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot. You can't control what other people do. You can only control what you do. We're not going to engage in those kind of cheap shots. Everybody knows our policy. Our policy is we don't support discrimination against anybody for any reason."

He continued: "The governor has been very clear about that, and then what policies individual companies have is up to them. We're making our case to Northrop Grumman about why we think Virginia is the best place for them to be, and if that's the best shot our friends in Maryland have to take against us, then it's okay. We're going to try to take the high road and keep our approach positive."

UPDATE 4:22 p.m.: McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin has added a bit more about the governor's position on Tuesday's Westboro church protests in Richmond: "The Governor took an oath to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth consistent with the Constitutions of the United States and Virginia. While this group does have a First Amendment right to free speech, all relevant state laws will be strictly enforced. The Governor finds this group's actions and message offensive. In 2007, as Attorney General of Virginia, he took action to help prevent this group from protesting funerals following the tragedy at Virginia Tech."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  March 1, 2010; 3:43 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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Next: McDonnell makes his TV debut as governor in Virginia parks commercials


I was at the press conference with Senator McEachin this morning, speaking in favor of SB66 (the anti-discrimination bill) on behalf of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia (RLCVA).

I want to dissociate myself from the remarks Senator McEachin made with regard to Governor McDonnell and the Westboro Baptist Church. To try to link the governor to a hate group like that was a cheap shot and totally out of line.

For the record, while I still support Senator McEachin's bill, I believe he should apologize to Governor McDonnell.

Posted by: RickSincere | March 1, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

As a strong supporter of SB66, the Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia would also like to condemn Sen. McEachin's disgraceful and inexplicable remarks connecting Gov. McDonnell and the Westboro Baptist Church. Such intemperate language merely makes the partisan divide in Richmond wider and diminishes the likelihood of the bill getting a fair hearing. We hope the Governor and Republican delegates focus on the issue of fairness and equal protection instead of the unfortunate remarks by Sen. McEachin.

Posted by: dlampo | March 1, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Gotta love the way the Post puts the McDonnell camp's response below the jump.

Posted by: tomtildrum | March 1, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Senator Donald McEachin is just talking junk. Governor Bob McDonnell's positions on homosexuality have nothing to do with it. The courts have ruled on the WBC and it's totally a 1st Amendment issue.

Posted by: penniless_taxpayer | March 1, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Homophobia is intolerance which brings no benefit. The Westboro Baptist church is the worst church the United States has ever known. Although I'm a Green and liberal Democrat, A. Donald McEachin is lying in that McDonnell has created the environment for the Westboro Baptist to protest in the state. McDonnell is accountable in advancing protections and rights for LGBT people. It's unjustified that a subcommittee in the legislature blocked abill which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The House of Delegates is a failure when it comes to anything other than social conservatism and protecting big business.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | March 1, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

It should be legal to shoot these Westboro Church followers.

The good thing, is that they are probably going straight to hell when they die.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | March 1, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

I find it completely reprehensible that gay Republicans who claim to support GLBT rights are DEFENDING Bob McDonnell...that is truly reprehensible, and I am beginning to give up on the idea that the gay Republicans can help our community by trying to bring the GOP in line with the rest of the country--when they continue to support and endorse a known homophobe and someone who will never support any legislation or policy to broaden the civil rights of LGBT individuals, it is very telling.

Gay Republicans ought to abandon any support of a Governor who so very clearly is already disastrous to progress that has been made in recent years in Virginia. The Virginia Senate (obviously controlled by Democrats) is the ONLY place where anything positive will continue to happen for LGBT people in Virginia.

Give it up, Log Cabin, I for one am tired of listening to your nonsense, and won't support the idea that you can bring the GOP around to the morally right positions.

We deserve our civil rights now, and have for decades. This has got to stop. I am tired of waiting for the GOP to register any common sense.

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 2, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

LibertyForAll--where do you think McDonnell came from? THe VA House!! And before that, Pat Robertson's university! Give me a break. You GOP operatives aren't fooling anyone.

Governor McDonnell can try to parade as a friend of GLBT people, but the stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming at just a cursory glance of Taliban Bob's record. He has NEVER, and will NEVER advance the civil rights of LGBT citizens and taxpayers, and we (even the Republican ones) should be doing everything within our power to run this disaster out of town as fast as possible and replacing him in 2013 with a Democratic Governor, and a Democratic House!

It's the ONLY way for progress in Virginia.

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 2, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The so-called "cheap shot" isn't just about McDonnell. Virginia's state laws, as well as the state constitution as amended by voters a few years ago, are hostile to same-sex relationships to the point of prohibiting ANY legal recognition of them--not just marriage but any kind of civil union or domestic partnership as well. Any company that values its gay employees and is considering relocating to Virginia would do well to consider this.

Posted by: MrDarwin | March 2, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Whose surprised? Voting for the GOP is voting for 18th century thinking.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 2, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) ― A Republican-ruled House subcommittee has killed legislation that would have banned job discrimination against gay state employees.

Posted by: bobbarnes | March 2, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Ironially, even most the gay people in the DC area live in Northern Virginia. In fact, NoVa has become one of the country's gay "meccas." Not even the left wing gays want to live in a city (DC) or a state (MD) where their political ideology is actually put into practice. What happens when it is: high crime, high unemployment, corruption, high taxes, low standard of living, and worst of all excruciating long commutes into the the NoVa job centers....
Maryland can't lure dog sitters in the state (they state strongarms them for their license fees, too) much less an international aerospace giant like NG.

Posted by: debbiedowner26 | March 8, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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