W.Va. Senate to introduce non-discrimination bill
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Senate President Jeffrey Kessler expects to introduce a bill by the end of the week that would prohibit firing or evicting anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Speaking at a Tuesday rally at the Capitol, Kessler promoted non-discrimination against gays and lesbians both as an ethical issue and also as good economic policy.
"It is not about gay rights, it is about human rights, it is about equal rights," Kessler said. "It has been said that the arc of history bends toward justice. Ladies and gentlemen, it bends toward justice everywhere, including in itty-bitty West Virginia."
He asked why a state with an aging population and a dwindling work force would exclude potentially qualified people.
"If you give a fair day's work for a fair day's pay each and every day, the last thing on earth you should be worried about is you're going to be fired, not because of the work you do, but because of who you love outside of work," Kessler said. "I just find it remarkable that in a day and age where we're truly desperate and hungry for qualified skilled workers who can pass a drug test, that we would turn our back as a state on 10 percent of the population and say you're not welcome."
The West Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment and housing based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness or disability. The bill would add sexual orientation to the list of factors which cannot be discriminated against. Similar bills have passed the West Virginia Senate in two previous sessions, but have stalled in the House.
Kessler was optimistic that the legislation would be more successful this year. He said that Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, had agreed to sponsor the bill in the House.
Jeremy Dys, of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, defended the right of employers to run their businesses as they see fit.
"We are not supportive of adding sexual orientation and sexual identity to these nondiscrimination laws. These laws are bad for freedom and bad for business," Dys said. "I think West Virginians are sick of being told they're a bunch of bigoted homophobes for practicing business according to their faith."
The rally was sponsored by Fairness West Virginia, a gay and lesbian civil rights organization. They highlighted 33 Fortune 500 companies that operate in West Virginia and have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.
At the same rally, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced that her office will adopt a full non-discrimination policy for hiring and office relations. She said the policy was already in place in practice, but this would put it in writing. She called on all state agencies to institute similar policies, officially barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Representatives from the Governor's office and the Attorney General's office did not respond when asked if they would pursue similar policies.