CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Justin Murdock, vice chairman of Fairness West Virginia, said his organization is trying to open the door to full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents by winning small victories.
In 2013, the organization achieved several milestones, including recently working with Huntington city councilors to unanimously pass an employment and housing nondiscrimination ordinance.
West Virginia’s Human Rights Law does not prohibit discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fairness West Virginia has found away around that, however, Murdock said, by working with local municipalities to pass LGBT ordinances.
Last week, Huntington became the state’s sixth city to add sexual orientation to its protected class of citizens. Murdock worked with Huntington City Councilman David Ball to introduce the ordinance.
“It’s such a relief for me and any member of the LGBT community,” said Murdock, who lives in Huntington. “Before, you could be fired or kicked out of rental housing for being gay, and obviously, now that is changed. It’s one thing for a city to say it’s against discrimination and another to write it into ordinance.”
In May, Fairness West Virginia praised Buckhannon city council members for passing LGBT protections in housing and employment. Huntington and Buckhannon joined Charleston, Morgantown, Lewisburg and Harpers Ferry, which previously passed similar ordinances. In November, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester became the first mayor to join the organization in calling for an end to the state’s ban on gay marriage.
Within the past several years, Murdock said his organization has seen a sea change for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender West Virginias. Part of this change is attributed to more LGBT people being out in the open in politics and everyday life. Most West Virginians say they know at least one LGBT person. And a recent poll conducted by Fairness West Virginia found a majority of people support some form of LGBT protections, Murdock said.
Fairness West Virginia’s next challenge is to the state’s ban on gay marriage.
Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights group, filed federal lawsuits in St. Albans and Huntington challenging the ban on behalf of Murdock and his fiancé William Glavaris, and two other gay couples.
West Virginia also doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. State lawmakers have rejected several recent attempts to include gays and lesbians in the state’s discrimination laws.
In June, in a 5-4 decision, U.S. Supreme Court justices struck down a key piece of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that a provision that denied benefits to legally married gay couples is unconstitutional.
Also, in another 5-4 decision, the court cleared the way for gay marriage to resume in California by ruling that supporters of Proposition 8, a gay-marriage ban, didn’t have legal standing to challenge a lower court that overturned the law.