CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill that would make it illegal to fire or evict someone in West Virginia because they are gay won't become law in the state this year.
Procedurally, it's because lead sponsor Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, asked that it not be taken up in committee. Practically, it's because there aren't enough lawmakers ready for the record to show they approve the measure.
"There are very few people on either side who believe gay people should be discriminated against. However, can they push the button?" Skinner said. "Those are two different things."
House Bill 2856 would make it illegal for businesses, landlords or Realtors to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation. It's currently legal to fire someone or deny them housing because they are gay, lesbian or transgender.
There are exemptions in the bill: the business would have to employ at least 12 people full-time, and there are religious exemptions taken from the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But Skinner feared if the bill came up in committee those exemptions would be broadened to a point the measure would become meaningless.
"The definition of sexual orientation was going to be changed so that transgender people would not be protected," Skinner said, adding that the religious exemptions would have been expanded as well.
Skinner, the state's first openly gay delegate, voiced his displeasure with the circumstances during a speech on the House floor. He thanked delegates who supported the bill and said he would pray for those who did not.
"Unfortunately, there are many people in the chamber who support the bill, but they will not vote for it," he said.
"To those of you who support the bill but feel you cannot vote for it, it is not my job to soothe your conscience."
Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, is chairman of the House Energy, Industry & Labor/Economic Development & Small Business Committee.
The bill failed to leave his committee last year, and he promised it would be taken up this year. But Tuesday he said it didn't look like there was enough support to pass it.
"Our latest count was three votes short," Skaff said. "That was the same count a week ago."
There are 25 people on Skaff's committee: 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. It would have required 13 votes to pass.
"There was a solid two that wouldn't move and one that was a last-minute decision," Skaff said. "But a bill of this importance, we couldn't leave it up to chance or risk where that one vote still didn't matter; you still needed at least three."
Opponents include Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell. She said she objects to carving out classes of people for what she called extra protections.
"I've voted against other bills in the past that would elevate government workers such as myself," Sobonya said.
"I just think that our constitution gives protection to all, and our constitution wants all to be equal, and we keep adding and adding and adding."