WV Supreme Court To Hear Case Against Football Player Who Attacked Gay Couple For Kissing

The West Virginia Supreme Court is set to determine if a former Marshall University football player can be charged with violating a person's civil rights in regards to sexual orientation.

The order was filed with the Supreme Court Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Former running back Steward Butler, 24, is accused of making a homophobic slur and striking both Zackary Johnson and Casey Williams in the face moments after they kissed at 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Huntington this past April. Butler has been charged with two counts of felony civil rights violations and two counts of misdemeanor battery.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Cabell County wants the court to decide whether state code embodies a protection of an individual's civil rights if the volatile act is based solely upon said person's sexual orientation.

The statute itself states, "All persons within the boundaries of the state of West Virginia have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex."

Prosecutors allege the violation is for the victim's sex, not sexual orientation, claiming Butler would not have punched the two men had they been women, or one had been a woman.

Circuit Court Judge Paul T. Farrell wants to Supreme Court to answer whether sexual orientation is encompassed under sex.

In September, Farrell set Jan. 26 as Butler's tentative trial date.

Butler was dismissed from Marshall's football team within hours of his arrest and the incident prompted strong reactions from the university's interim president, Gary White, and a host of same-sex advocacy organizations.