The West Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a “religious freedom” bill opponents say would allow for discrimination against the LGBT community.

Sixteen Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in approving the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

Supporters of the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 4012) argue that it's needed to protect the free exercise of religion.

The bill states that the state “may not substantially burden a person's right to exercise of religion” without a “compelling interest.”

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, a Republican from Morgan, said from the House floor on Wednesday that the bill was about First Amendment rights, but other backers have directly linked the proposed legislation to gay rights.

The constitution “doesn't guarantee anyone's right to have any particular kind of lifestyle or behavior protected,” said House Majority Whip John O'Neal, a Republican from Raleigh,”but it guarantees the free exercise of religion. That freedom has been severely curtailed in recent years with the growth of gay rights and mandated contraception coverage under Obamacare, among other things.”

(Related: West Virginia Republican John O'Neal: Christians can lose their businesses over “who they love.”)

Lawmakers on Wednesday rejected amendments aimed at clarifying that the law could not supersede local nondiscrimination ordinances, seven of which include protections for the LGBT community.