Mountaineer Muddle: West Virginia Legislators Contemplate Discriminatory Bills

  Image by Getty Images

Image by Getty Images

Just months after the West Virginia Senate voted down the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill, Mountain State lawmakers are talking about resurrecting it in the next legislative session. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Republicans have expressed their desire to pass both a so-called religious liberty law similar to this year's HB 4012, which could have allowed individuals and even for-profit corporations to discriminate; deny women healthcare; and otherwise harm others in the name of religion, and a bill that would discriminate against transgender individuals. 

“I hope RFRA comes back,” Melody Potter, the national committeewoman for the West Virginia Republican Party, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Because RFRA was hijacked by the gay lobby and, unfortunately, some of our legislators were intimidated.” 

Language in the state's Republican party platform, adopted last month, seems set to revive the RFRA debate. In it the party affirms that it was "opposed to same-sex marriage, civil unions or any other entity or institution that is intended to gain equal or similar status or recognition as the traditional marriage of a genetic man and a genetic woman." RFRA legislation could allow individuals in the wedding industry to deny service to same-sex couples, as well as deny access to healthcare and trump existing nondiscrimination laws.

On top of this, conservative lawmakers are working towards introducing a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill," which would prohibit transgender individuals from using the restroom facilities that fit their gender identities. In fact, one Republican state senator is calling for the legislature to take up such a "bathroom bill" during a possible special session in August.

Although West Virginia Republicans are working towards reintroducing "religious liberty" bills and anti-transgender legislation in the upcoming year, they might find strong resistance to the measure. The 2016 RFRA bill faced stiff opposition on the House floor and ultimately met its demise in the Senate. North Carolina, the progenitor of the current crop of "bathroom bills", is suffering from the economic backlash of its harmful law. The state Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the 2016 RFRA bill, is unlikely to endorse any further legislation that would harm business in West Virginia. 

Only time will tell whether West Virginia's conservatives will ultimately pursue this path of discrimination in the name of religion. But if they do, Americans United will be there to oppose them.