Senate President Mitch Carmichael issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying he’s against Senate Bill 270 to prohibit discrimination against members of West Virginia’s LGBTQ community. In the statement, he argues the bill risks usurping religious liberties.
“In my view, this legislation must do more to allay the justifiable fears of good Christian people regarding the usurpation of their religious liberties,” the statement said. “We must always protect our religious freedoms and the worth of every person. As with any proposal, the Senate will give thoughtful consideration to this concept.”
Carmichael didn’t specifically explain what the “justifiable fears” were in his statement, but several lawmakers, including Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, and Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, have said in previous statements they fear the bill will increase the risk of a discrimination lawsuit for some businesses.
If passed, SB 270 — also known as the Fairness Act — would add protections for people regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation to state laws already prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and housing.
Carmichael has been involved in discussions about the bill since Dec. 3, when the advocacy group Fairness West Virginia invited him to be on a panel, which also included religious and business leaders.
The tone of the meeting was largely positive, and at the time Carmichael said he opposes all forms of discrimination as a matter of his faith.
In a written statement Tuesday afternoon, Fairness West Virginia Director Andrew Schneider noted the Fairness Act holds bipartisan support. Its lead sponsor is Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.
“This language is simple, uncomplicated and it works,” Schneider said. “It’s the only way to ensure hardworking West Virginians can live free from discrimination. It should not be legal to fire, evict or deny LGBTQ people public services just because of who they are or who they love.”
There are similar policies including protections for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in 12 local governments across West Virginia.
SB 270 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary committee for consideration.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.