Saturday, June 4, 2011


The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank's attempt to show inclusiveness in the workplace by flying the rainbow flag outside its building has reignited a divisive gay-rights debate.

Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, is calling on the bank to remove the flag, terming its presence "a serious deficiency of judgment by your organization, one not limited to social issues."

In a letter to Richmond Fed President Jeffrey M. Lacker, Marshall says the homosexual behavior "celebrated" by the bank "undermines the American economy."

"What does flying the homosexual flag, or any other similar display, have to do with your central banking mission under the Federal Reserve Act passed by Congress?" writes Marshall, one of the General Assembly's most conservative members.

The Fed, which deems itself an independent entity within the federal government, placed the flag at the request of PRISM, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender bank employees, to coincide with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

Jim Strader, a bank spokesman, said the flag was raised to fly for the month of June, and that there are no plans to change the timetable. It hangs under the American flag on a pole in front of the building.

"We are flying the pride flag as an example of our commitment to the values of acceptance and inclusion," Sally Green, the bank's first vice president and chief operating officer, said earlier this week.

Opponents in the battle over gay-rights expansion in the state staked out familiar positions, with the conservative Family Foundation saying it's "disappointing" to see the bank participate in the "celebration."

"At The Family Foundation, we will simply choose to use this flag, like the view of Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, as motivation for the work that lies ahead," said Victoria Cobb, president of organization.

Equality Virginia, a Richmond-based gay-rights group, threw its support behind the Fed's decision on Friday, criticizing Marshall and the Family Foundation as "Virginia's self-styled morality police."

"The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond should receive accolades for its decision to recognize and celebrate its GLBT employees, customers and vendors during Pride month," said EV's Executive Director James Parrish.

Parrish took issue with the Family Foundation's claim that state residents spoke on gay rights when they voted 57 to 43 percent in 2006 in favor of the state's marriage amendment. He argues that people's attitudes on gay-rights issues have evolved and pointed to more recent polling.

The Fed is "a private business and should be able to make its own personnel and corporate policy decisions without Bob Marshall's guidance or the Family Foundation's approval," he said.

Marshall wrote in the letter to Lacker that homosexual behavior is a Class 6 felony in Virginia, referring to the state's sodomy law. That statute remains on the books despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a Texas law that prohibited private, sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults.

Brian Gottstein, spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General's Office, said its attorneys "have not heard of a scenario in recent decades, even before the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, where a consenting couple acting in private was prosecuted."

That's consistent with the experience of Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring, who said "To my knowledge no one enforces consensual sodomy as a result of [Lawrence v. Texas]."