Following a late vote Friday night by the West Virginia State Senate’s Judiciary Committee to advance HB 4012, HRC and Fairness West Virginia, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, called on the West Virginia Senate to pull back from HB 4012, the shameful anti-LGBT bill that would put LGBT people -- and West Virginians of all walks of life -- at risk for discrimination.
The committee vote comes one week after new polling from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, found that a 54 percent majority of West Virginians oppose a Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill (like HB 4012) that would allow small business owners to deny service to LGBT people -- even for so-called religious reasons -- and that a 60 percent majority of West Virginians support protecting LGBT people against discrimination in employment, housing and access to public places.
“Freedom of religion is part of our DNA as a country, which is exactly why it is already protected by the First Amendment. HB 4012 won’t protect our freedom, but instead will put all kinds of West Virginians at risk for discrimination. This includes even allowing a person to use HB 4012 as a defense against child abuse, or allowing a pharmacist to argue he is not required to provide birth control,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The Senate should stop this reckless and irresponsible bill in its tracks and ensure that everyone, including LGBT people, can live free from fear of discrimination in West Virginia.”
“We are extremely disappointed that the majority of the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted for legislation that seeks to legalize discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. This dangerous and clearly unpopular measure continues to advance despite the unprecedented public outcry against House Bill 4012,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of Fairness WV. “The statewide opposition to HB 4012 includes citizens, business leaders, health professionals, religious minorities and faith leaders, City Councils, and local Chambers of Commerce, West Virginia's major universities and colleges, 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. This legislation may very well have a devastating effect on our economy and our reputation as a welcoming tourism destination. We urge every member of the West Virginia Senate to sincerely consider the negative consequences of this legislation and vote it down before it's too late."
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 a business owner or employee to refuse service to LGBT people, the broadly-written bill would go even further, putting all minority communities at risk for 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. Employers like AT&T, Marriott and the NCAA have also signaled their opposition to the bill. And newspapers like the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Register-Herald have editorialized against HB 4012.
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 nearly 200anti-LGBT bills in 32 states. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature. HB 4012 is among three bills introduced that would allow individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a legal reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people.