Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax of Virginia, who has been accused of sexual assault by two women and is facing calls to resign, compared himself to lynching victims in an unplanned speech before the State Senate on Sunday and said he was “standing firm in the truth.”
Mr. Fairfax, who is black, spoke for about five minutes from the dais on the last day of the session, and referred to bills previously passed by state legislators that expressed regret over past lynchings in Virginia.
“I have heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people are not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that,” said Mr. Fairfax, a Democrat. “And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment in nothing but accusations and no facts, and we are deciding we are willing to do the same thing.”
The impromptu speech came days after Mr. Fairfax’s accusers indicated they were willing to testify publicly. Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates announced Friday that it would hold hearings on the accusations, a move that promised to bring the spotlight back to a scandal that had started to quiet.
Meredith Watson has accused Mr. Fairfax of raping her in 2000, while they were students at Duke University. Vanessa C. Tyson, a political-science professor from California, said she was assaulted by Mr. Fairfax during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Mr. Fairfax, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, declined to comment further through a spokeswoman.
Both women declined to comment on Mr. Fairfax’s Sunday speech through their legal teams.
“I will not dignify that statement with a response,” Ms. Watson said in a statement.
Debra Katz, a lawyer for Dr. Tyson, said Dr. Tyson stands by a statement issued Friday indicating she was prepared to testify publicly. Referring to the Republican announcement of the hearings — and the Democratic critique of the announcement — Dr. Tyson said she did not want to be “embroiled in a highly charged political environment.”
The scandal has complicated a tenuous situation for high-ranking Democrats in Virginia politics. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, who are white, have refused to resign after admitting they wore blackface in their youth. That has Democrats facing the difficult proposition of whether to move against Mr. Fairfax.
Lamont Bagby, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Sunday that he did not “want to feed into a point that’s not mine” when asked if he agreed with Mr. Fairfax’s comments.
“I always sort of take a step back when individuals compare lynching or slavery to anything that happens in modern time,” he said. “I will say, there are individuals on both sides of the aisle and both chambers that will stand and not allow this to be a political lynching.”
He said he would like to see a law enforcement investigation into the allegations.
Todd Gilbert, the Republican House majority leader, took a harsher tone.
“That is the worst, most disgusting type of rhetoric he could have invoked,” Mr. Gilbert said. “It’s entirely appropriate for him to talk about due process, and we would intend to offer him every ounce of it, and he’s welcome to take advantage of that anytime he would like.”
Mr. Fairfax’s speech Sunday came just after Thomas K. Norment Jr., the Republican Senate majority leader, praised Mr. Fairfax’s professionalism during a time that was “stressful for you and your family,” a point that was met with applause in the Senate chambers.
Mr. Fairfax then began speaking, admitting he had not planned to. He made several allusions to race.
“If we go backward and we rush to judgment and we allow for political lynchings without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, then I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve,” Mr. Fairfax said.
He added that he wanted a “full investigation.”
“I turned 40 last Sunday; I have lived 40 years accusation-free,” he said. “Fifty years ago had fingers been pointed at me in the exact same way, it would be a very different outcome. I would not be standing up here on the dais. A very different outcome would have happened with no facts, no due process, no evidence, no nothing.”
Lynching has been broached after sexual misconduct allegations against other high-profile black men.
Bill Cosby’s wife and representatives of R. Kelly referred to lynching when describing allegations against the two men, wrote Salamishah Tillet, now a professor of African-American and African studies at Rutgers University-Newark, in a New York Times Op-Ed last year. She also noted that Justice Clarence Thomas said his 1991 confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court had become “a high-tech lynching” because of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment accusations.
False accusations of rape have been used to justify the lynching of black men. But that has typically only been when white women claim to be victims, Dr. Tillet said in an interview.
She said Mr. Fairfax’s analogy “rings hollow” because it is not always true that women are believed — black women have often had their claims dismissed. Both Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson are black.
Dr. Tillet said Mr. Fairfax’s speech was also a “smoke screen” intended to cover up sexism.
“This is kind of a subtle way of making people choose between being anti-racist and being anti-sexist,” she said. “Black women are being cast as white lynch mobs. That should be a cause of deep alarm.”