CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Update: 1/16/2020
A bill called the "Fairness Act", now under consideration in the West Virginia Legislature, has some similarity, according to a supporter, to a non-discrimination ordinance defeated in 2017, after months of public discussion, by Parkersburg City Council:
"The language in the bill is similar to that in other states that have similar legislation," says Jeanne Peters, President of "Out MOV", "and very similar to the NDO's that have been passed in the 12 municipalities in the state."
Peters believes just-announced opposition by Senate President Mitch Carmichael is political, noting Carmichael has a challenge to his Jackson County Senate seat in the May primary.
Another opponent is Wood County Senator Mike Azinger, who came under fire last year for criticizing organizers of a local "Pride" rally.
"It's going to cut religious freedom and religious conscience off at the knees," Azinger said Thursday. "It's a bad deal."
Azinger also believes the proposed law is anti-business, arguing it could lead to lawsuits against companies.
"It can open up all kinds of lawsuits, and even if they are baseless, the defendant has to hire a lawyer and spend lots of money, and go through an awful experience."
Peters notes companies including Walmart and Highmark have their own non-discrimination policies. She also cites polls indicating most residents approve of non-discrimination laws.
"It's time for everyone in West Virginia to have the same protections in housing and employment. That's what we are in West Virginia; we're fair and we believe in the golden rule."
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael now says he's against a proposal to explicitly bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Jackson County Republican clarified his position on the measure in a statement on Tuesday.
Carmichael had taken a neutral stance on the bill after drawing criticism for meeting with a group of activists about the legislation.
He now says the current bill doesn't do enough to protect religious liberties.
Proponents have argued that it's past due for the state to have such protections for LGBTQ people in the state.