(Opinion) Identity politics

Resist Marchers thrust flags into the sky during the Pride Resist March, Sunday, June 11, 2017, Los Angeles, California.

After the Virginia Values Act was signed into law and gave specific protections to LGBTQ community members in April 2020, Leesburg photographer Bob Updegrove has decided to file suit in federal court against Attorney General Mark Herring, who will defend the bill.

The Arizona-based advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represents Updegrove, who identifies as a Christian and believes he may only celebrate marriage ceremonies between one woman and one man if he wishes.

Faith-based communities and advocacies are included in the legislation, in which LGBTQ Virginians may not be discriminated against in matters of housing, employment, public spaces and credit applications.

“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of being punished by the government, that applies to people of faith and something guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Denise Harle, who serves as senior counsel for ADF. “Government hostility towards people of faith is unconstitutional, and it has no place in our society. Tolerance and respect for good faith, differences of opinion, is essential to our diverse society, and it’s part of the ideals that America was founded upon.”

Harle quoted Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru as legal precedent and anticipated a victory for that reason.

“The faith of many Americans inspires them to act for the good of their neighbors and also requires them to abide by its teachings,” Harle said in a September statement when the suit was filed. “...Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon and adjust their convictions or pay crippling fines — in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution and other state laws.”

Updegrove v. Herring complaints were heard in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division on Jan. 15.

ADF claims the Virginia Values Act goes against Virginia Code section 2.2-3904(B), a nondiscrimination clause of public accommodation, and Updegrove, as a photographer and subsequently an artist, “should be free to choose the messages (Updegrove promotes.)” Arguing his right to free exercise, Updegrove’s complaint against Herring also says that the Commonwealth of Virginia “seeks to regulate Bob’s views — that marriage should be between a man and a woman — out of existence.”

Herring publicly supported the Virginia Values Act in his opposition saying, “The Virginia General Assembly chose to take affirmative steps to guard against discrimination in the public marketplace, aiming to foster a more inclusive Commonwealth free from the sort of unequal treatment that has long infected public life,” Herring said. “That choice should be respected, (Updegrove’s) complaint should be dismissed, and the motion for a preliminary injunction should be denied.”

A previous statement provided by Herring’s press secretary, Charlotte Gomer, also stressed Herring’s support of the LGBTQ equality bill.

“Attorney General Herring believes that every Virginian has the right to be safe and free from discrimination no matter what they look like, where they come from or who they love," Gomer said. “LGBT Virginians are finally protected from housing and employment discrimination under Virginia law and Attorney General Herring looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”