West Virginia's human rights law protects blacks, Jews, Hispanics, women, Catholics, oldsters, Asians and other minorities from being fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartments, just because of prejudice.
But the law doesn't cover gays. Therefore, West Virginia seems to tell the world that most minorities deserve protection from cruel bigotry, but not gays. Indirectly, the Legislature implies it's OK to treat gays spitefully.
Similarly, the state hate crimes law protects those same minorities from brutal attacks based on prejudice -- but not gays. Again, the Legislature seems to say that most minorities deserve extra protection from violence, but homosexuals don't.
This is odd, because the latter are most likely to suffer "gay-bashing" assaults from bigoted rednecks.
Year after year, a few reformers try to expand West Virginia's human rights and hate crimes laws to cover homosexuals. But pressure from gay-hating fundamentalists always derails the attempt.
Commendably, Charleston's council expanded the capital city's hate crimes and human rights ordinances to protect gays. But legislators, fearful of the bigoted "religious right," refused to do likewise.
Now a new statewide poll finds that a 2-to-1 majority of West Virginians think gays deserve equal employment and housing rights. The survey by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina found that 68 percent of 1,110 polled Mountain State residents agreed that it should be illegal to fire or evict gay, lesbian or transgender people solely because of their orientation.
Only 16 percent -- mostly fundamentalists, we assume -- said the mistreatment should continue. And 15 percent were unsure.
This overwhelming result shows that most West Virginians have become tolerant, like most Americans. Steadily, a rising tide of cultural change brings more acceptance of gays. Same-sex marriage soon will be legal everywhere, and other human rights will be available to gays.
A half-century ago, it was a felony to be gay in West Virginia. Anyone convicted of gay sex was sentenced to the ancient stone prison at Moundsville. One Kanawha Valley resident committed suicide to avoid that fate. But same-sex behavior was legalized in the 1970s, and other rights keep growing.We hope the Legislature finally expands both the human rights law and the hate crimes law to protect gays from cruelty. It's time for West Virginia to catch up with the compassion and decency that are rising in nearly all states.