WHAT IT IS
May 9th, 2017: West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that hate crimes do not include anti-LGBTQ attacks. [ABC News]
The ruling came from April 2015 case, "State of West Virginia vs. Steward Butler." [Supreme Court of West Virginia]
Butler was accused of physically assaulting two men kissing in public.
Butler was charged on two counts of battery and two counts of violating an individual's civil rights. [The Herald Dispatch]
- 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. [Metro News, WV]
- The case was taken to West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals, where the courts ruled in favor of Bulter. [ABC News]
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
Prior to physically assaulting the two men, Butler reportedly yelled anti-gay or homophobic slurs. [WSAZ3, Local]
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.
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. [West Virginia Legislature]
BUT ITS NOT PROTECTED
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey notes that the violence “does not give the judicial system a license to rewrite state law” [The New York Times], and that “legislatures, not courts, define criminal liability." [West Virginia Supreme Court]
Chief Justice Allen Loughry states the court is “bound to apply the law as it stands". 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." [West Virginia Supreme Court]
Two steps back
West Virginia has rejected changing this law 26 times. [New York Law School]
Many believe this to be the state moving in the wrong direction, as this is not representative of federal policies and how a majority of states' courts have become more protective of the LGBTQ community. [Slate]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Butler was kicked off Marshall’s football team and remains charged with two accounts of battery. [The Charleston Gazette-Mail] 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. [The New York Times]
- Federal law protections for the LGBTQ community can be stronger than state laws.