Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli want you to know that they’re in favor of small government. McDonnell has made a name for himself by slashing $600 million in education funding and recently attended a retreat held by billionaire anti-regulation gurus David and Charles Koch. Cuccinelli is fighting the recent federal health-care reform law in court, even though the conservative-leaning 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently dismissed his lawsuit, adding insult to injury with an opinion that implies Cuccinelli needs to brush up on civil procedure. It’s also why Cuccinelli has called for Virginia to be exempted from the Civil Rights Act because we’ve “outgrown” institutional racism.
This commitment to less government has made Cuccinelli a tea-party rock star. While McDonnell isn’t quite there yet, he’d clearly like to be, if his recent photo op with Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is any indication. There’s only one problem: While McDonnell and Cuccinelli fight valiantly to keep government out of the pockets — and private lives — of Virginians, they take an entirely different tack when it comes to women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
McDonnell’s religious-right credentials already are well established. He attended graduate school at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and his gubernatorial campaign hit a brief snag when news media got hold of his thesis, which railed against “homosexuals, cohabitators” and “fornicators” and blamed working women for high divorce rates. He managed to quell the controversy enough to get elected; last year he even showed an inclination toward being Virginia’s good cop when he issued an executive directive prohibiting state discrimination based on sexual orientation after Cuccinelli infamously told state universities they were forbidden to enact such a policy.
But lately, it would seem, the libertarian in him has checked out in favor of the Robertson disciple. In late August McDonnell introduced a new set of regulations for Virginia clinics that provide abortions, which require them to conform to the physical dimensions required for hospitals. This would force practically every provider in the state to shut down for remodeling or close permanently. It’s worth mentioning that, regardless of your personal beliefs regarding abortions, the clinics that these regulations will force to close also provide low-income and uninsured women with contraception, cervical cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
The administration and its allies in the General Assembly are spinning the regulations as a step to safeguard women’s health rather than a conservative religious agenda. What they don’t often acknowledge is that Matt Cobb, Virginia’s deputy secretary of health and human resources, is married to anti-abortion lobbyist Victoria Cobb. She’s president of the explicitly religious Virginia Family Foundation, which has spent years lobbying lawmakers to enact these very regulations. The foundation’s previous lobbying successes include the parental consent requirement for abortions in 2003 and the anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment in 2006.
Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has trained his sights on ridding the state of moral deviants. Besides his aforementioned warning to Virginia’s universities (“We can’t even be gay in college anymore?” asked a bewildered Jon Stewart), last May he told WTVR-6’s Mark Holmberg that homosexual acts were destructive, and that gay people needed to be more integrated into society. Moreover, as recently as mid-2010 his office has made clear that it intends to enforce Virginia’s sodomy laws, despite sodomy laws in general being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, and are just generally so antiquated that in August even Christian-right presidential candidate Rick Santorum refused to support nominating a pro-sodomy-law Supreme Court justice. This is really saying something considering Santorum owes his name recognition almost entirely to his history of saying ridiculous things about the need for sodomy laws.
Beyond religious issues, back before conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth certificate flamed out, Cuccinelli was caught on camera telling a birther audience member that “it’s possible” he could take action in his capacity as attorney general to question the president’s birthplace. So much for the restrained use of taxpayer money.
The debate over the role and size of government is one thing, and well-reasoned arguments can be made on behalf of either side. It’s far less defensible to argue that the federal government is guilty of creeping socialism and meddling too much in our private lives only to turn around and meddle in citizens’ private lives at the state level, particularly when that meddling serves no practical purpose other than to convince a core constituency that you hold the same prejudices they do. S
Zack Budryk is a journalism major at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.