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Legislature Must Catch Up With Communities on Fairness Act

Last Thursday, South Charleston City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ residents.  There was no discussion and the ordinance passed unanimously.

South Charleston became the 15th West Virginia community to pass a Fairness Act. It was all pretty routine.

South Charleston’s action followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, where the Court ruled 6-3 that an employer who fired an employee for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullins told the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Lori Kersey, “With the Supreme Court ruling that came out like that, we wanted to make sure we were in full compliance with federal law for one. And for two, it’s the right thing to do.  You want to wipe out discrimination if you can, or at least show that you are opposed to it.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, praised the council’s decision. “This is a huge win for the people of South Charleston, who took a big step (today) to tell the world that all people are protected from discrimination here.”

While an increasing number of West Virginia communities make clear that discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identification is unacceptable, the state legislature remains behind the times.

Every year, a group of lawmakers introduces the Fairness Act and every year the bill fails. The bill never even got on a committee agenda in the last regular session, so there was not even a chance for discussion.

Seven years ago this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the appeal.  Since West Virginia is in the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit, the ruling had the effect of overriding our state’s prohibition on same-sex marriages.

West Virginia then began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The rivers did not overflow, and the mountains did not crumble. All that happened was that gay and lesbian West Virginians could make the same legal commitment as straight couples and enjoy the benefits of marriage.

In a more perfect world that would be the end of it, and the founding principle of equality would be enough to ensure that West Virginians are not discriminated against because of who they happen to love.  We know that is not always the case, which means we must provide an additional protection.

The Fairness Act provides that protection and, just as importantly, it codifies that West Virginia is a welcoming place to live and work.





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