By Rebecca Blatt
Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell has directed state agencies not to discriminate against gay people, essentially overriding the state attorney general's advice to public colleges.
Last week Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli advised public universities to rescind policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Cuccinelli said they couldn't create such policies because state law did not extend protection to gays and lesbians.
In his executive directive, McDonnell countered, saying the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits discrimination based on factors such as one's sexual orientation.
Kent Willis directs the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
"That kind of message means a lot," says Willis. "It trumps the kind of bias that takes place in the workplace, sometimes subtle sometimes not so subtle."
Willis says he was surprised by the move, in part because McDonnell did not include sexual orientation in a previous executive order banning discrimination in the state workforce.
"His executive directive reverses that 180 degrees," he says.
But while Willis calls the move a step forward for McDonnell, he says the state still has a lot of work to do to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.