Following Manchin’s opposition, state Democratic Party urges support for Equality Act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Democratic Party is asking the state’s lone Democratic federal officeholder and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to support legislation to apply federal non-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community.

The party’s position Monday followed the announcement by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on his opposition to the Equality Act.

Manchin is the only Democratic senator not to support the legislation, which lawmakers introduced last week. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is the lone Republican cosponsor. The legislation would extend existing federal non-discrimination rules on race and religion to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill would also explicitly ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and federal funding among other matters.

“I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” Manchin said in a statement. “After speaking with local education officials in West Virginia, I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

The state Democratic Party called for Manchin and Capito to back the bill, citing the recent state legislative session as one reason for the extension.

“The LGBTQ community endured countless remarks of hate and ignorance while bills that were crafted to protect them never made it up for a vote,” the party said. “Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito need to lead by example and vote in support of The Equality Act. We simply cannot allow West Virginia to deny equality and protections for our LGBTQ community.”

State Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, drew controversy last month after referring to supporters of the LGBTQ community as “the most socialist group in this country” and referring to the community itself as “a modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan.” The state Republican Party denounced Porterfield’s comments, but the Legislature did not reprimand Porterfield.

Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said Porterfield’s comments and the harassment of a Harrison County transgender student are evidence the Equality Act is needed.

“We should be doing everything we can to end invidious discrimination and to protect LGBTQ people,” he said.

Manchin said he will continue working with the legislation’s sponsors on a bipartisan bill. The Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to pass the current bill; the GOP controls the chamber with 53 seats.

Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced similar legislation last week in the House of Representatives; Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski was the only Democrat in the chamber not to cosponsor the bill.

Story by Alex Thomas, MetroNews