Passing a Fairness Act in West Virginia has bipartisan support and the endorsement of the governor heading into the legislative session.
The act, which has been proposed often in recent years but never made it to the governor’s desk, would add protection for the LGBTQ community in the state’s anti-discrimination laws. It would mean someone who is gay or transgender could not be denied a job, services or housing based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many West Virginia municipalities have already adopted such policies. They’re not new or strange. It doesn’t provide any special protection for those in the LGBTQ community. It just assures them the same rights everyone else has.
It’s a measure whose time has come. Even with a Republican supermajority in the West Virginia Legislature, Delegate Josh Higginbotham, R-Putnam, says he’ll take the lead on the bill.
First and foremost, such discrimination belongs in the past. But West Virginians also are beginning to realize that, without such an act, a state that is losing population rapidly is pushing more people out who would rather stay and projecting an archaic image that doesn’t help attract new residents or businesses.
Still, the bill has its detractors. Those who spout old stereotypes and think it should be fine to fire someone if a business owner finds out that employee is gay, were at it again on social media this week.
One of the stock arguments put forth against this type of legislation is that it will lead to lawsuits against West Virginia businesses. Detractors typically cite the Colorado case where a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, but real-world examples start to run thin after that.
Those who back the theory of increased litigation are essentially saying they believe everyone would prefer to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and, if that legal right is taken away, they’ll get sued for not pretending to tolerate those who are different from them.
Not only is this empirically untrue, it makes some startling assumptions that point to a much deeper problem. In essence, those taking such a stance are arguing for the right to discriminate. Additionally, if some lawmakers and business owners fear a tsunami of lawsuits or losing their right to refuse service, that’s not only reprehensible, but an ironically strong argument for why a Fairness Act is necessary.
West Virginia should be open and fair to everyone. Diversity of race, religion and lifestyle make the state stronger. If the Legislature spends another session without getting this bill passed, that’s another year of people who feel like they aren’t valued leaving. It’s another year of those who left but would like to return holding off. It’s another year of telling those who might like to make a home in West Virginia that it’s not for them.
That is clearly the wrong message, and it’s time to change.