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Beckley non-discrimination ordinance approved

BECKLEY, W.Va. — A proposal to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes within the city of Beckley was approved and enacted by a majority of Common Council members Tuesday.

The amendment specifically prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations, based on an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, such as manner of dress or appearance.  The ordinance was drafted by city attorney William File, in consultation with Beckley’s Human Rights Commission.  Churches, religious non-profits and private clubs are exempted.

The vote was preceded by a lengthy period of public comment, in which speakers for and against the measure frequently cited passages of the Bible to illustrate their points of view.

Robert Dunlap

Commission attorney Robert Dunlap told MetroNews affiliate WJLS-AM he believes Christian doctrine is compatible with the new ordinance.

“The overarching messages of the Bible about wanting to treat everyone equally, you don’t get that if (members of the LGBTQ community) feel hate and they feel exclusion from the outset.  All this ordinance does is, it allows people to stay in their homes. It allows them to stay in their employment,” he said.

Dunlap rejected the argument that the ordinance is a solution in search of a problem because of existing federal civil rights laws.

“Keep in mind civics 101: as you go down the ladder from federal protections to state protections to community protections, you’re able to protect people more on the lower level.  You just can’t protect them less.  We’re allowed — and we’re expected — to afford more protections to people (at the local level),” said Dunlap.

Among the critics of the amendment was Family Policy Council of West Virginia President Allen Whitt, who said the ordinance, as written, could be weaponized against those whose faith precludes them from accommodating non-heterosexual people.

Allen Whitt

“The ordinance is specifically targeting one group of people, one group of people only.  It would be evangelical Christians or Orthodox Jews, who hold to a traditional view of marriage and to a scientific view of biology,” he said, describing the language exempting churches and faith-based groups as a ruse.

“For example, if a local church were to host a 5k run, and (had) a water stop there and provided a bathroom, then that church loses its exemption.  They become a place of public accommodation, and the ordinance would apply to the church,” said Whitt.

The vote after the second reading of the amendment was 4-2. Council member Frank Williams, who recently resigned as chairman of the Human Rights Commission, did not attend Tuesday’s session.  According to Mayor Robert Rappold, Williams’ absence was due to recent surgery.  In the vote following the first reading of the ordinance on Jan. 8, Williams voted against the measure.

No current federal or West Virginia code recognizes sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class, though several municipalities in West Virginia have enacted similar ordinances.

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