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 wv4marriage.com, 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 (www.truthwinsout.org).
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.