Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) has caused students across the Old Dominion to "rise up for gay rights,"* reporters Daniel de Vise and Rosalind Helderman insisted on the March 9 Metro section front page of the Washington Post.
Helderman and de Vise failed to consider the liberal leanings of the protesters, tagging the demonstrators in the lead paragraph as mere "campus activists" who are steamed over the state AG's "letter advising public universities to retreat from their policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orienation." A few paragraphs later, Helderman and de Vise suggested that an "erosion in gay rights at state universities" would have detrimental effects on attracting and retaining students and faculty.
The problem is, Cuccinelli's legal opinion does not mandate a "retreat" from discrimination, he just noted that under Virginia law, any change in non-discrimination policy wording must be authorized by legislation.
It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ’sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification, as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.
What's more, reports the Associated Press, Virginia colleges and universities cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation anyway, pursuant to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court:
The attorney general said his letter merely stated Virginia law, which prohibits discrimination because of "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability," but makes no mention of sexual orientation.
Cuccinelli said the criticism was coming from people who have been frustrated in their attempts to change the law.
"None of them suggest our reading of the law is wrong. It's people who don't like the policy speaking up because it's their opportunity to go on the attack," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg said colleges are bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Attorney General's ruling cannot overrule the High Court on this matter of policy, but Cuccinelli has every right to advise state agencies if and when they are deviating from the letter of the law.
The Virginia electorate, acting through their legislature, is more than free to change the law to specifically list "sexual orientation" on state institution non-discrimination policies.
But that's not as juicy a newspaper article as one that loads its language with the objective of demonizing a conservative Republican office holder.
*"Students rise up for gay rights" was the print headline. The washingtonpost.com version headline reads, "Students irate at Cuccinelli over gay-rights policies."