Disinfecting Virginia’s Public Square

Let’s take Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) at his word regarding Virginia’s history.

In remarks he delivered at ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves to British North America, Northam said, “If we are going to begin to truly right the wrongs of our four centuries of history, if we are going to turn the light of truth upon them, we have to start with ourselves.”

Fair enough. We should all be students of Virginia’s complex and contradictory history (an excellent starting point is Brent Tarter’s “The Grandees of Government: The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia”).

But we also can’t forget the ugliness that’s still with us.

Over the weekend, some Henrico and Hanover county residents found that Ku Klux Klan literature had been left on their property. In July, a handful of robed Klansmen paraded outside the Hanover county courthouse.

The hateful tracts cast on lawns under the cover of night seem to have been few. And the number of publicly berobed racists seems small. But the malice behind both is real and revolting.

The question is whether we have the will to chase other forms of malice out of the public square.

There are plenty of examples to choose from. Consider Del. David A. LaRock (R-Loudoun).

This month, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors reversed its earlier decision to extend anti-discrimination and anti-harassment protections to LGBT county employees. Why? Because LaRock told the supervisors the policy violated the state’s Dillon Rule, which limits local governments’ powers.

It’s a fair point. The General Assembly hasn’t passed legislation banning various forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals, which is part of the reason the Human Rights Campaign is getting involved in this year’s House and Senate elections.

But in an interview with Winchester Star reporter Josh Janney, LaRock doubled down on his opposition to the idea, saying the state shouldn’t provide anti-discrimination protections for “chosen sexual habits.”

That is actually a baby step forward for LaRock, who usually displays an almost cartoonish bigotry toward LGBT individuals. And let’s not even get into his defense of discrimination. The governor’s “light of truth” may have a hard time penetrating that.

The governor would also have a hard time convincing the GOP-controlled General Assembly that it’s time to repeal the hateful — and unconstitutional — Marshall-Newman amendment that banned same-sex marriage.

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