Cuccinelli not giving in on colleges' gay bias policies

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said Friday that it remains his legal advice that the state's public colleges and universities should remove language dealing with sexual orientation from campus anti-discrimination policies.

In some of his first public comments on the issue since his letter last week to the universities sparked an uproar on campuses, Cuccinelli (R) said he continues to believe that the institutions are limited in their ability to adopt such policies without authority from the General Assembly. The legislature has repeatedly declined to put legal protections for gay men and lesbians into Virginia code.

"What I said in my March 4 letter was accurate advice under Virginia law, and it still stands," Cuccinelli said in brief comments to reporters after addressing lawmakers on an unrelated issue.

Universities, he said, "don't have any more authority than the General Assembly gives them, which is a similar position as the localities. And until the General Assembly gives them more authority, they're quarantined by what they've got."

This week, after Cuccinelli's opinion drew national attention, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) issued a non-legally binding executive directive to the state workforce, warning that anyone who discriminates on any grounds, including sexual orientation, could face reprimand or termination.

Cuccinelli said he does not contest one of the McDonnell directive's central legal conclusions: that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution, which courts have found protects individuals against irrational bias.

Cuccinelli said he was not surprised that there was reaction from college students to the sensitive and emotional issue.

"Campus activism is an old tradition in America, and it's good one," he said. "Those folks are expressing themselves on a matter that's been in the political arena for a long time. Our role isn't in the political arena on this subject. Our role is to give legal advice, to state what the law is."

Jon Blair, executive director of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Virginia asked McDonnell on Friday to appoint a special counsel to enforce his directive.

Blair said Cuccinelli's position on the issue makes him and his staff unable to offer legal services on the issue.

In a letter to the governor, Blair thanked McDonnell for his directive, which he called a "real step forward," but asked that governor go beyond what Blair termed its "largely symbolic promise" by pushing for legal protections in Virginia code.

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