Today, HRC and Fairness West Virginia, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, denounced the shameful anti-LGBT bill (HB 4012) being pushed in the West Virginia state legislature that would put LGBT people -- and West Virginians of all walks of life -- at risk for discrimination. HB 4012 passed the House 72-26, one of several anti-LGBT bills introduced this session in the West Virginia legislature.
HB 4012 would allow any person to claim their religious beliefs excuse them from following any state or local law. Not only could the bill allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people, the broadly-written bill would go even further, putting all minority communities at risk for discrimination.
“It’s deeply unfortunate that legislators in the West Virginia House moved forward with a seriously flawed bill that would flood the courts with expensive legal challenges and frivolous lawsuits that will take years to resolve,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Freedom of religion is a core American value, which is exactly why it is already protected by the First Amendment. Rather than protecting our freedom, HB 4012 would put LGBT people at risk for discrimination and go even further, allowing a person to use HB 4012 as a defense against child abuse or allow a pharmacist to argue he is not required to provide birth control.”
“We are extremely disappointed that the WV House of Delegates would advance legislation that seeks to legalize discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of Fairness WV. “Unfortunately, WV House Leadership chose to ignore the many public outcries of opposition from citizens, business leaders, health professionals, religious minorities and faith leaders, City Councils, and local Chambers of Commerce among others who feel this legislation will harm West Virginia. Sponsors and supporters of the bill have admitted this measure is a direct retaliation against marriage equality and recent advancements in LGBT discrimination protections. It’s clear that this legislation seeks to target the LGBT community in West Virginia and jeopardize the right of local governments to protect their citizens from discrimination.”
Cities and Chambers of Commerce across West Virginia, leadership at West Virginia University and local business groups across the state -- Generation West Virginia and the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce -- have all spoken out against the bill, saying that it would hurt the state's economy and expose businesses to unnecessary lawsuits. Newspapers like the Charleston Gazette-Mail andRegister-Herald have also editorialized against the bill.
When similar legislation was taken up in Indiana last year, the debate cost the state as much as $60 million in convention revenue alone from lost business, according to a recent survey. The survey from “Visit Indy" found that “12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial religious objections law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere.”
The attacks on fairness and equality in West Virginia are part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed in 2016 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking over 150 anti-LGBT bills in 31 states. For more information, visit:www.hrc.org/2016legislature. HB 4012 is among three bills pending in the state legislature that would allow individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a legal reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people.