March 4, 2016 at 10:36 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
W.V. Senate rejects religious freedom bill

West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, West Virginia, religious freedom, gay news, Washington Blade

The West Virginia Senate on March 2, 2016, rejected a religious freedom bill that critics said would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination. (Photo by David Wilson; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The West Virginia Senate this week voted against a controversial religious freedom bill that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Republican-controlled chamber on Wednesday rejected House Bill 4012 — known as the Religious Freedom Protection Act — by a 27-7 vote margin.

The original version of HB 4012 that state Del. John O’Neal introduced in January sought to “ensure that, in all cases where state action substantially burdens the exercise of religion, strict scrutiny is applied; to provide a claim or defense to a person or persons whose exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action.” The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported the Senate on Tuesday approved an amendment that added protections for LGBT West Virginians to the bill.

The West Virginia House of Delegates last month approved a similar religious freedom bill.

“The WV Senate’s rejection of House Bill 4012 is a resounding victory for Fairness West Virginia, our allies, our supporters, and Mountaineers everywhere,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, in a statement after the vote.

Gay state Del. Stephen Skinner (D-Shepherdstown) also welcomed the vote against HB 4012.

West Virginia is among the states in which lawmakers have considered religious freedom bills in the wake of last June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.

The Virginia Senate last week approved a “Kim Davis” bill that would allow officials to refuse to officiate a same-sex marriage because of their religious beliefs. Similar bills that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate on Feb. 19.

The South Dakota House of Representatives on Thursday failed to override the veto of a bill that sought to ban transgender students from using restrooms in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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