An overwhelming majority of West Virginians say they support granting gay and lesbians equal employment and housing rights, according to a new study by a national polling firm.
It is currently legal in West Virginia to fire someone or deny them housing because they are gay, lesbian or transgender. But a recent poll by the Raleigh, N.C. based firm Public Policy Polling found 68 percent of voters do not believe it should be legal.
Just 16 percent of respondents said the discrimination should be legal, while 15 percent said they were not sure.
Bills to outlaw discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have failed in the last four legislative sessions.
The State Senate has passed anti-discrimination legislation on two occasions, but the bills have always died in House committees. They were never been defeated outright; committee chairman have declined to take up the legislation.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, sponsored a bill this year that would make it illegal for businesses, landlords or real estate agents to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation.
But in March, Skinner asked the House Economic Development and Small Business Committee leave the bill off its agenda, saying there was not enough lawmakers were ready to support 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 at the time. “Those are two different things.”
He plans to reintroduce the bill in the 2014 session, however, and believes the Public Policy Polling results show support for the legislation is only growing.
“I think it shows there are a lot of delegates, both Democrats and Republicans, that are far out of the mainstream on this issue,” he said.
“I hope that, for many of those delegates who support it but are scared that they’re doing something that their constituents won’t approve of, will begin to understand their constituents actually support it.”
The poll also surveyed voters’ views on gay marriage.
While 70 percent said they do not believe same-sex marriage should be allowed in West Virginia, about half of voters support some kind of legal recognition for gay couples.
Twenty percent of respondents said gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, while 29 percent should be allowed to form civil unions.
Forty-eight percent believe there should be no legal recognition of gay relationships, while 4 percent are not sure.