On Saturday in West Virginia, the legislative session came to an end at midnight, in effect killing extreme anti-LGBT bills which had failed to move forward - including a bill to abolish local liberty (HB 2881) and two so-called "religious freedom" bills (HB 2508 and SB 487). Fairness West Virginia, the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) West Virginians, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, claimed victory in stopping these extreme anti-LGBT bills from moving forward and vowed to continue the fight for fairness and equality in the state.
“With the help of fair-minded legislators in both chambers and both parties, along with thousands of LGBT advocates and allies, we successfully fought off attempts to dismantle equality in the Mountain State,” said Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider. “As evidenced by the overwhelming public opposition to discriminatory legislation, it’s clear that West Virginia is no place for intolerance and hate. We look forward to continue working with our allies in the WV Legislature to ensure that West Virginia is a more inclusive and attractive place to call home.”
“Fairness and equality have prevailed in West Virginia,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “These bills were assaults on liberty and justice, and without the work of Fairness West Virginia, HRC members, and allies in the state, they could have very well been passed into law. All West Virginians deserve to be treated fairly with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The deceptively named “West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act” (HB 2881) claimed to create uniformity among non-discrimination laws but actually would have invalidated existing LGBT non-discrimination ordinances in the state’s cities and towns, undoing decades of work and abolishing local liberty. From the smallest town of Thurmond to the biggest city of Charleston, many communities across West Virginia have decided to stop waiting for state legislators to do what is right, but rather have taken it upon themselves to protect their LGBT citizens by adopting city and town nondiscrimination ordinances and resolutions. H.B. 2881 not only would have prohibited the rights of communities to govern themselves but it also would have interfered with democracy in its purest form: city and town councils. When a nondiscrimination ordinance or resolution is considered or passed, each community has the opportunity to speak out against it, vote the city or town leadership out of office, or repeal the ordinance. There was no need for interference by the state legislature.
The so-called “religious freedom” bills, HB 2508 and SB 487 were part of a wave of anti-LGBT legislation emerging across the country that threatens to undermine all existing state civil rights laws, unleash a wave of litigation, and damage the economic climate and reputation of the states in which they are being considered. If these overly-vague bills became law, public businesses in West Virginia from pharmacists to funeral homes to restaurants, and everything in between, could have legally singled out LGBT customers and refused them service, simply because of a professed religious objection to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bills would also have put all state non-discrimination laws at risk of being undermined and threatened not just the LGBT community, but women, members of minority faiths and other minority classes.