Back in 2012, when my husband, Rabbi Joe Hample, was looking for a congregational job, I had to convince him to apply for the job at Tree of Life here in Morgantown. “West Virginia is unfriendly to gays,” he said. “They won’t hire me.” I told him to calm down. “Morgantown is a college town with two large hospitals. The congregation will be mostly Ph.D. doctors and M.D. doctors from all over the country. And, of the four delegates who voted against the bill to declare marriage as ‘between one man and one woman,’ two of them were from Morgantown.” The two were Charlene Marshall and Barbara Evans Fleischauer. And we have had it good here. Not everyone likes us, but after seven years, Tree of Life is negotiating a new contract with Joe, and I am running for reelection to Morgantown City Council.
I get that certain people are uncomfortable with gays, or feel that two men or two women marrying is somehow against God. In our religious sect, Reform Judaism, being gay is fine, if you’re really gay and not just fooling around (you shouldn’t be “fooling around” in any case). It’s worse to be unhappily married or alone. And one should find a way to have children, which we did not do. What about our religious freedom?
My own parents expressed their unhappiness that I was gay, and I left Baltimore, where I grew up, partly to get away from them, in 1978. I moved a few times, and lost a job because I was gay, in 1985, when I had no recourse to do anything about it. My parents became more accepting after a time.
Eric Porterfield’s sin, as far as the Republicans are concerned, is that his bigotry is out in the open, and not considering his blindness, he is a singularly unattractive and uncouth guy. That he hates gays is not really their issue. He didn’t introduce the amendment to ban cities from granting rights to those not covered by state law (meaning LGBT people) and nine other Republican men voted with him for the amendment. They are arguably better dressed and better looking than Porterfield and not so uncouth. Delegate Tom Bibby of Berkeley County even said it wasn’t about discrimination, just about making the law the same throughout the state. Well, then, what if we made it the state policy to ban discrimination against LGBT people? No, we can’t do that.
The ordinance we passed on Morgantown City Council, which was brought to us by our Human Rights Commission, passed unanimously in 2017 with widespread local support. The Republicans in the Legislature, who like to talk about “local control,” only mean that they should control what everyone else does (see the debate about allowing guns on campus). Here in Morgantown, we support equal opportunity, WVU has an LGBTQ+ Center, and the hospitals and University can recruit the best qualified people, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity. I don’t want to stress the economic benefits of anti-discrimination laws, because the moral issue is more important.
Joe and I made the right decision to come here seven years ago. We have made a difference, and the political climate, at least locally, is much better than it was seven years ago.