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Antigay 'Religious Freedom' Bills Die in West Virginia

Antigay 'Religious Freedom' Bills Die in West Virginia

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This year's legislative session was marked by lawmakers' attempts at discrimination, but none of these bills became law.

Three antigay bills have died in the West Virginia legislature with the end of the session.

Lawmakers closed their 2015 legislative session Saturday at midnight without passing two bills that would have permitted businesses to discriminate against customers under the guise of religious freedom and one that would have prohibited cities and counties from enacting or enforcing LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination laws, the Human Rights Campaign reports on its blog.

The "religious freedom" bills, one introduced in the House of Delegates and another in the Senate, saw no action beyond being referred to committee. The bill on city and county antidiscrimination laws got a first reading in the House in February but was sent back to a committee, which delayed action on it indefinitely, notes West Virginia's Metro News.

"With the help of fair-minded legislators in both chambers and both parties, along with thousands of LGBT advocates and allies, we successfully fought off attempts to dismantle equality in the Mountain State," Fairness West Virginia executive director Andrew Schneider said in the HRC blog post.

With the spread of marriage equality, several states have seen the introduction of so-called religious freedom bills, which are aimed primarily at allowing businesses to deny wedding-related goods and services to same-sex couples. They also open the door to discrimination against anyone who offends a business operator's religious beliefs in some way. One such measure has become law in Mississippi, and Indiana is close to enacting one.

Arkansas recently enacted a law prohibiting inclusive municipal nondiscrimination ordinances, and Tennessee passed one a few years ago. A similar measure approved by Colorado voters in 1992 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.

Also in West Virginia this session, one legislator, Tom Fast, attempted to amend a nondiscrimination law for taxi and ride-share services to let drivers turn away LGBT passengers, The Charleston Gazette reports. "Although Fast's amendment was soundly defeated, it caused considerable consternation," Gazette columnist Phil Kabler notes.

"Attempts to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks were a running theme of the session, appearing in at least three pieces of legislation," Kabler adds. "I don't know what gay people did to upset our legislators, but it sure must have [been] something terrible to warrant such retribution."

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