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Is Virginia for loathers?

Gary Caruso | Friday, April 5, 2013

For nearly 45 years, the Commonwealth of Virginia lured tourists through an iconic slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers.” The brainchild of Richmond advertising company Martin and Woltz, the slogan launched in 1969 for the Virginia State Travel office and has been copied in various iterations by other tourist organizations. Part of the slogan’s allure is the tolerant and accommodating feeling one derives when associating Virginia with tourism. Unfortunately, the GOP state legislature and governor have tarnished that imagery of brilliant openness in Virginia with another new legislative intrusion – this time permitting campus organizations to discriminate.
Two weeks ago, Notre Dame alumnus and Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (’76) signed the so-called Student Group Protection Act into law.  The measure maintains funding for student organizations that limit membership based on religion, sexual orientation or personal beliefs. In an attempt to apparently protect a campus group’s ability to discriminate, Virginia’s reactionary initiative is a direct response against and attempt to reverse a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Christian Legal Society (CLS) v. Martinez. The high court affirmed that requiring college student groups to adopt an “all-comers” policy is not a violation of that group’s First Amendment rights. The CLS at the University of California had sought to limit its membership based on a requirement that its members subscribe to a statement of beliefs as well as refrain from practicing behavior outside the statement.  Members were further prohibited from advocating beliefs considered contrary to the statement, and in this case, restricted those who merely supported a gay rights campus group.
While it is disheartening that a Notre Dame alumnus elected to a high statewide office can support such a narrow-minded policy of exclusion, in this instance it is not surprising. When McDonnell worked on his joint law and public policy degree from the Christian Broadcasting Network University (currently Regent University), his 1989 thesis reveals the roots of his restrictive thinking. Entitled, “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of The Decade,” McDonnell wrote that “government policy should favor married couples over cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” He additionally characterized feminists and career women as detrimental to the family structure.
McDonnell also responded to a 1965 Supreme Court decision that legalized the use of contraceptives. He said that “man’s basic nature is inclined towards evil, and when the exercise of liberty takes the shape of pornography, drug abuse or homosexuality, the government must restrain, punish and deter.” Like any slick politician, McDonnell has brushed off his past academic thoughts by saying Virginians will judge him on his nearly 20-year record of public service rather than on his academic exercise. However, his record is not one of inclusion for Virginians.
Last year McDonnell virtually eliminated himself from GOP vice presidential consideration with his awkward initial support of a legislative proposal mandating every woman in Virginia considering an abortion must submit to a vaginal ultrasound examination. In another obvious attempt to circumvent the current law of the land decided by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade four decades ago, McDonnell asserts a severely hard pro-life stance since he does not support the standard abortion exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Paradoxically, while he openly supports babies, he virulently executes convicts – most notably the September 2010 execution of Teresa Lewis, judged to have an IQ of 72 (U.S. law prohibits the execution of persons with a 70 IQ or less) who was the first woman in nearly a century executed in Virginia. Appeals had come to McDonnell’s desk where only he, as governor, could have commuted her execution. He refused to be pro-life with Lewis who prayed and held hands with her chaplain and lawyer during her final moments before her execution. At the time, McDonnell’s decision had many question whether he was among those who truly stand for life in all situations including capital punishment and unnecessary war deaths.
 During the past few years, the GOP agenda in Virginia is but one of many examples how out-of-touch and selectively exclusive statewide Republicans have attempted to overturn current law. Time and again, political conservatives pick and choose how the government should “protect” certain narrow group thought over the expansive freedoms granted in our Constitution. Their candidates avoid revealing their true socially restrictive thinking during a campaign in order to win office, and then, while in office, rear an ugly prohibitive stance against those who may think differently. It is no wonder the GOP was handily rejected in the last presidential election.
Anybody can get elected at least once, especially if the opposing party nominates a country bumpkin with lesser communications skills and considerably less political savvy. McDonnell never signaled his restrictive nature during his run for governor in 2009 but stressed jobs and economic issues. This year, his hopeful GOP successor will have no such stealth advantage. For now, anyway, we can sadly say, “Yes, Virginia, there is a separation clause.”

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him at: [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.