West Virginia vs. LGBTQ
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Law and Politics

West Virginia vs. LGBTQ

State rules to protect a hate crime

WHAT IT IS

  • May 9th, 2017: West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that hate crimes do not include anti-LGBTQ attacks.1

  • The ruling came from April 2015 case, "State of West Virginia vs. Steward Butler"2. Butler was accused of physically assaulting two men kissing in public.

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  • Butler was charged on two counts of battery and two counts of violating an individual's civil rights.3

  • Butler pled guilty to battery; however, he argued against the civil rights violations, stating there is no mention of "sexual orientation" in West Virginia civil rights law.5
  • The case was taken to West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals, where the courts ruled in favor of Bulter.1

WHY IT MATTERS

 

The state’s recent ruling could set precedent for other cases in the U.S. This case also questions not only LGBTQ rights, but if state and federal LGBTQ rights should be the same.

IT WAS A

HATE CRIME

Hate speech

Prior to physically assaulting the two men, Butler reportedly yelled anti-gay or homophobic slurs.5 

 

 

Legal opinion

Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Chief Justice Robin Davis argued that the men were unfairly assaulted because they acted outside societal gender expectations, therefore, is a hate crime against "sex" as written in the law. 6

 

 

Vague is dangerous

Those arguing that it was a civil rights offense stated the unclear use of the word "sex" in the civil rights law makes LGBT individuals vulnerable to homophobic attacks, therefore, the law should change.7

 

BUT ITS NOT PROTECTED

Law stands

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey notes that the violence “does not give the judicial system a license to rewrite state law”12, and that “legislatures, not courts, define criminal liability.”13

 

 

Legal opinion

Chief Justice Allen Loughry states the court is “bound to apply the law as it stands”10. No matter the opinion of hate crime or not, the civil rights language only covers violations against "sex" and does not cover violations against "sexual orientation."11

 

 

Two steps back

West Virginia has rejected changing this law 26 times.8 This is not representative of federal policies, and how a majority of states' courts have become more protective of the LGBTQ community.9

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Butler was kicked off Marshall’s football team and remains charged with two accounts of battery14. He has not played football since.

  • West Virginia legislature is only one of six states that do not include sexual orientation in civil rights protections.15

  • 11 cities within West Virginia have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination bills17, with Morgantown being the latest city to protect citizens.18

  • Federal law protections for the LGBTQ community can be stronger than state laws.16

 

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Read up on LGBT protections in West Virginia here.

  • Read about how cities around the U.S. are becoming more progressive on LGBTQ issues.
  • How should state courts define sexual orientation and gender to avoid ambiguity?
  • President Trump continues to signal attacks against the LGBTQ community.17

The Obama administration set precedent by developing many of federally protected civil and human rights for the LGBTQ community.19 

 

Read or watch to learn more about how the administration worked to protect LGBTQ rights.

Key Vocabulary