CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Legislature made history on Tuesday, although not a single vote was cast on the issue.
Minutes into the body's floor session, in a flurry of introductions by other lawmakers, House Speaker Rick Thompson gave the floor to Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson.
Skinner, the state's first openly gay lawmaker, looked to the chamber's north gallery and pointed out members of Fairness West Virginia, a gay rights group he founded in 2008.
He then asked Jeffrey Gustafson, his partner of three years, to stand.
People in the House chamber clapped. Gustafson sat back down, as did Skinner, and business continued as usual.
It was a small victory, Skinner said, but a victory nonetheless.
"There are all these little important points. We're breaking the barrier," he said.
Skinner, 44, is experiencing a lot of these moments lately. Voters in Jefferson County elected him to the statehouse in November even though he didn't hide his sexual orientation.
"There's at least one district in West Virginia that doesn't care, at all. The fact that I was gay doesn't matter," he said.
Then, during February's State of the State address, Gustafson sat beside Skinner on the House floor. The two also have attended many official functions together.
"These attitudes are changing every day," he said.
Skinner is an Eastern Panhandle native, with family going back seven generations there. His mom and dad met at West Virginia University. Skinner attended West Virginia Wesleyan for his undergraduate degree before heading to West Virginia University College of Law.
Gustafson, 28, was raised in Clarksburg. He also attended West Virginia University and now works as a consultant for nonprofit groups.
The couple lives on a small farm outside Shepherdstown. They don't own any livestock but do have "lots of groundhogs," Skinner said.
Skinner won't see much of the Jefferson County farm for the next few months, but he's trying to make his time away worthwhile.
The freshman delegate will be the lead sponsor of a bill aimed at protecting gays and lesbians from housing and employment discrimination. Similar bills have failed in the Legislature in recent years, passing the state Senate but failing to gain traction in the House.
Skinner hopes to change that.
He said the last time a poll was taken in 2010, about 60 percent of state residents supported legislation that would prevent gays and lesbians from being fired or evicted from their homes just because of their sexual orientation.
Skinner guesses the state is probably approaching 70 percent now.
"I know there's bipartisan support," he said.
The cause certainly is attracting big-name supporters.
At a Capitol rally Tuesday, Senate President Jeff Kessler and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant both expressed their support.
"The truth of the matter, ladies and gentlemen, it is not about gay rights. It's about human rights," Kessler said.
"We do not have enough productive people in this state," he said. "Why on earth would we turn our back on 5 or 10 percent of our population and say, 'You're not welcome?'"
Kessler also is expected to introduce an anti-discrimination bill in the Senate this week.
Tennant said her office does not discriminate against anyone but vowed to enact a written policy forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"Discrimination is not what we do here in West Virginia," she said.