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In Virginia, legalized discrimination is alive and well

Wednesday, March 10, 2010; A22

IN A MARCH 4 missive to state colleges and universities, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) argued that the schools had overstepped their legal bounds by enacting nondiscrimination policies that include protections for sexual orientation. Under Mr. Cuccinelli's reading of the law, the schools must refrain from offering more protections than the law requires unless the Virginia General Assembly explicitly authorizes them. The attorney general admonished the schools to "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia." Translation: Discrimination is alive, well and now encouraged in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

"What he's saying is reprehensible," Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a former Republican member of the House of Delegates who serves on the board of visitors of George Mason University, told The Post's Rosalind S. Helderman.

Mr. Cuccinelli is not the first attorney general to articulate the limits of Virginia anti-discrimination laws. His predecessors for the past 25 years have come to a similar conclusion concerning cities and counties that wished to extend protections to gay and lesbian residents. But colleges and universities traditionally have been given broad leeway to set policy. These schools have been havens for inclusive policies that often go hand-in-hand with academic freedom. It's sad and telling that as one of his earliest acts in office, the attorney general would actively reach out to enable discrimination. His opinion would, in the words of a former governor and current senator, Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), "hurt the ability of our colleges and universities to attract the very best faculty, staff and students and [would] damage the Commonwealth's reputation for academic excellence and diversity."

Mr. Cuccinelli is certainly right about one thing: The Virginia legislature has failed -- disgracefully, in our view -- to guarantee protections to gay and lesbian residents of the state. If legislators did their jobs, the attorney general's well-known views on the evils of homosexuality would become quaint artifacts instead of the arbiter of policy for what has been, until now, a first-class system of higher education.

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