Metro Weekly

West Virginia Senate guts, then defeats proposed “religious freedom” law

Approved amendment would have prevented overturn of local nondiscrimination ordinances

West Virginia State Capitol (Photo: David Wilson, via Wikimedia).

West Virginia State Capitol – Photo: David Wilson, via Wikimedia

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Senate overwhelmingly defeated a proposed “religious freedom” bill that would have condoned discrimination against LGBT citizens of the Mountain State.  The Senate voted 23-11 to approve an amendment to the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, that would ensure that the law could not be used to overturn or invalidate any existing nondiscrimination laws or ordinances. Currently, nine cities and towns in West Virginia have passed comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, including Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Lewisburg, Martinsburg and Morgantown. 

The amendment, proposed by Democratic Senators Corey Palumbo and Ron Stollings, was agreed to after Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael argued in favor of it, saying he did not want a religious freedom law to be used to discriminate against the LGBT community, WVMetroNews reports.

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The move to successfully amend the bill deflated any hope for the measure, particularly after religious conservatives objected to the move. The Family Policy Council of West Virginia claimed that the inclusion of the Palumbo-Stallings amendment undermined the special protections they were seeking for opponents of same-sex marriage. Social conservatives had previously argued that the RFRA law was necessary to protect people’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, LGBT rights organization, called the Senate’s rejection a “resounding victory.”

“West Virginia sent a clear message to the world that Mountaineers do not tolerate discrimination,” he said in a statement. “This action proves once again that bipartisan support for nondiscrimination principles is a guiding force in our state.”

Schneider also noted that merely defeating anti-LGBT laws isn’t enough. He argued the legislature must pass a comprehensive law that would protect LGBT West Virginians from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“While we celebrate this victory today, we must remember that without a statewide nondiscrimination law, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians will continue to be vulnerable to discrimination simply because of who they are and who they love.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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