RICHMOND, Va. -- One week after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is asking Indiana businesses to consider moving to the Commonwealth.
In an open letter to Indiana corporations, McAuliffe wrote “I would like to welcome you to take advantage of Virginia’s open, inclusive and thriving business community.”
One of McAuliffe’s first official acts as governor was to sign an executive order protecting Virginia state employees from discrimination based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
Indiana’s new law prohibits state laws from infringing upon a person’s right to follow his or her religious beliefs. However, critics say the law protects businesses and organizations that refuse to cater to the gay or transgender community.
While not a Virginia law, Shirley Lesser and India Lipton-Lesser, a gay couple who live in Chesterfield County with their young son, fear the legislation is a step backward. While the couple is legally married in Virginia, they worry they’ll be discriminated against when they travel to Indiana to visit India’s grandmother. They say they’re particularly worried because their son has special needs and might need medical attention.
“It certainly does add a tone of caution for us,” Lipton-Lesser says. “It will make us definitely look very closely at what businesses we trust out there.”
Supporters of religious rights however, believe laws also need to be in place to protect people who don’t support same-sex marriage or homosexuality.
Prominent Chesterfield pastor, Bishop Gerald Glenn of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, says he’d rather go to jail, than be forced to go against his own personal and biblical beliefs. Glenn says he preaches to his congregation that pastors may one day face laws that force them to marry same-sex couples.
“I think it’s something as Christians where we've got to draw a line in the sand,” Glenn says. “If people want to choose to live this kind of lifestyle, that’s fine, but don’t tell me that I've got to accept this and don’t tell me I have to turn around and endorse it.”
While the Lipton-Lesser family says they understand an individual’s personal beliefs, they believe it’s discriminatory if those beliefs infringe upon the rights of others.
“I don’t keep them from church. I don’t keep them from praying. I don’t keep them from marrying or having children and living the life they want,” Lesser argues. “How dare they do that to us.”