W.Va. Episcopal bishop supports gay-rights legislation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of the Episcopal Church in West Virginia wants the state's human rights law amended to include a provision banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Bishop Rev. Michie Klusmeyer of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia wrote a letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state's Legislature asking for their support of changing the state's human rights law to make it consistent with the Federal Hate Crimes Law, which President Obama signed into law in 2009.
Klusmeyer, whose diocese is comprised of 70 congregations and nearly 10,000 members, said the church has written similar letters to Tomblin and former Gov. Joe Manchin over the past four or five years.
Neither responded, but legislators have, he said.
"We have gotten little action but [some] responses," Klusmeyer said. "I have gotten some letters of support and some nasty responses from other [legislators]."
In the most recent letter, dated Jan. 22, Klusmeyer asks that the state pass legislation that's consistent with the Episcopal baptismal covenant, which is a pledge to "strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being."
"We believe that everyone has the right to a peaceful existence," the letter states. "'All men are created equal.' We do not read any disclaimers or qualifications regarding that statement in the [Constitution] of the United States."
Fairness West Virginia, a civil rights organization that advocates for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the state, has been pushing for the legislation for the past five or six years, said Dr. Coy Flowers, the organization's board president.
The state Senate has twice passed a bill that would amend the law, but both times the measure died in the House of Delegates.
Bishop Klusmeyer believes the matter is about equality.
"In a country that says all men are equal, it's apparent by our law that is not true," he said. "This is purely an issue of equality. It is an issue of living up to the Constitution of the United States and providing safety for all people regardless of sex orientation and all matters of their lives."
Flowers also raised the issue of job security for LGBT West Virginians.
Fairness has found that state residents believe all West Virginians -- regardless of their sexual orientation -- should be able to keep a job, Flowers said.
The state has nearly 40,000 LGBT people, 30,000 of which are employed, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
"Currently we have 30,000 West Virginia workers that are at a disadvantage," Flowers said. "It's not fair. It's not right and this is the year that it should end."
Reach Lori Kersey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1240.