The Supreme Court in West Virginia has ruled that homophobic assault or anti-gay attacks are not hate crimes.

  • Anti-gay or homophobic attacks will not be tried as hate crimes in West Virginia.

  • A vote by the West Virginia Supreme court found that hate crimes only applied to “race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex”

  • This goes against Federal laws enacted by President Obama in 2009.

The ruling was made when the court was hearing an appeal made for Steward Butler, a running back with the Marshall University football team, who allegedly committed an attack on a gay couple, Casey Williams and Zachery Johnso after he saw them kissing. The prosecutors allege that Butler hurled homophobic abuse at the couple before punching them to the ground. He faced two counts of battery and two counts of hate crime.

However the state’s justices have ruled that Butler will not face hate crime charges because the state’s definition of hate crime applies only to: “race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex”.

The prosecutors were aiming to have Butler tried with two counts of a hate crime as well as two misdemeanour counts of battery, however the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled by a three-two votes that anti-gay attacks do not constitute a hate crime. They rejected the argument that homophobic crimes could be tried as sex-based hate crimes.

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The justices insisted on a strict interpretation of the law, writing: “The word ‘sex’ in West Virginia [law] is unambiguous and clearly imparts being male or female, and does not include ‘sexual orientation’.”

This decision is in direct conflict with the federal laws which were enacted by Barack Obama in 2009 when he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law added protections for crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

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The trial will continue will now continue with Butler facing the misdemeanour charges.

The attack took place in April 2015.