The West Virginia Senate passed a bill on Friday that would protect gay men and lesbians from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, reports The Charleston Gazette.

Senate Bill 238 was introduced by state Senator Brooks McCabe, a Democrat from Kanawha, on February 12. The bill now heads to the House for approval.

A final vote tally was unavailable from the West Virgina Legislature's website, but sources indicate 7 Republicans and 3 Democrats opposed the bill. If all senators voted, the legislation passed by a 24 to 10 vote.

The bill defines sexual orientation as the “heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity, whether actual or perceived” of a person. Religious groups would be exempt from the law's provisions.

West Virginia lawmakers are also being pressed to consider defining marriage as a heterosexual union in the state's constitution. A marriage amendment would require the approval of voters.

Social conservatives and religious groups in the state have mounted an intense campaign to bring the issue to a vote. Behind the call to action is The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a group supported by the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family ministry. The group created the single issue-oriented website, where they have posted a video that compares the gay lobby to snipers targeting families. About a minute into the five minute video, a nuclear family happily blowing bubbles are placed within the crosshairs of a rifle scope, presumably the target of gay marriage supporters.

Pro-gay group Truth Wins Out called the video “reckless” in demanding its removal.

“This kind of overheated rhetoric creates a climate where hate crimes can occur,” Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen said in a blog entry posted at the group's website (

Democratic leaders so far have thrown cold water on the idea, saying the state's current laws outlaw marriage by gay and lesbian couples.

“I think the Senate spoke very clearly,” Democratic Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin said. “The Senate is on the record on the issue.

A similar gay protections bill passed the Senate by a unanimous vote but was rejected by the House last year. And while the West Virginia House remains tightly under Democratic control, it had a greater majority in 2008. Last year's House included 72 Democrats, one more than now.