CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael is against a proposal to explicitly bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Republican said in a statement Tuesday.
Carmichael had taken a neutral stance on the bill after drawing criticism for meeting with a group of activists about the legislation. He now says the current bill doesn't do enough to protect religious liberties.
“In my view, this legislation must do more to allay the justifiable fears of good Christian people regarding the usurpation of their religious liberties,” he wrote. “We must always protect our religious freedoms and the worth of every person.”
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, an activist group pushing for the bill, has said the state should pass the measure to signal that the state is a welcoming and inclusive place.
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By Brendan Tierney, WSAZ
Sexual orientation is getting closer to becoming a protected class in West Virginia.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael hosted a hearing on Thursday to get input from religious and business leaders about the Fairness Act. It's a proposed law that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
It is currently legal in West Virginia to fire someone from their job or evict them from their home because of their sexual orientation. Race, religion, gender, age and national origin are currently protected in the state, but not sexual orientation.
"Whenever we see an employee that does everything right, but it happens to be discovered that they are gay, and they can be fired for that with no ramifications, that's simply wrong and West Virginians can't stand for that," Charleston business owner Chris Walters said.
There are currently 12 communities across West Virginia that have protections that would be expanded to the entire state under the Fairness Act. Supporters said the policy would help boost business.
"Unfortunately, our talented youth are moving out of state," Walters said. "I have more friends that I went to college with that are not in West Virginia than are still in West Virginia."
"I want to see them come back here," Walters continued. "I want to do everything we can to make them feel welcome."
Opponents of the law said it could open businesses up to more lawsuits and create more problems than it solves.
"I would argue that it would put undue pressure on business owners," said Pastor Jonathan Pinson with Grace Baptist Church. "I do not believe that this type of legislation is going to help West Virginia. I believe that if we were going to look at the vast majority of West Virginians, they are concerned about their religious liberty, and that liberty being infringed upon."
Religious leaders also questioned how someone could prove or enforce their sexuality in a complaint.
Carmichael has not committed to supporting the bill but has said he will not block it from coming up for a vote in the upcoming legislative session. The session begins on Jan. 8, 2020.