Tiff over gay marriage arises from home rule legislation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Two of Kanawha County's most prominent Republicans are in a dispute over whether there was ever any intention to perform gay marriages in Charleston.
Somehow, the quarrel became entangled with home rule legislation.
On this, both subjects agree: It all began when Charleston Mayor Danny Jones approached House of Delegates Minority Leader Tim Armstead about supporting a state law that would allow the Charleston mayor to perform wedding ceremonies.
Jones had a notion: Performing marriages would be a good way to promote the city during popular events.
"It would really be novel," Jones said. "You come into the city and you have the mayor marry you."
Other mayors in other cities perform marriages, and it could catch on here, Jones believed.
"We could end up getting tourists out of this," Jones said.
Jones is actually a minister with the Universal Life Church. He could perform marriages without the blessing of the Legislature if he had his ministry validated by the West Virginia secretary of state, he said.
"But I thought that religious people would rather me do a civil marriage than a religious one," Jones said.
So he went to Armstead to talk about the idea.
That's where their accounts part sharply.
According to Jones' version of the conversation, Armstead immediately asked if the mayor planned to perform marriages for gay people.
"He (Armstead) said, 'You don't want to marry gay people, do you?' " Jones said.
That's not how Armstead recalls the discussion. His first worry, he said, was whether other mayors would want to perform marriage rites as well.
"My initial response was, 'What about the other mayors?' "
Armstead added that Jones told him he would talk to the other mayors and that it shouldn't be a problem.
Jones then asked Armstead why he would be concerned about other mayors having the power to perform marriages, according to the delegate's version of the conversation.
Armstead contends he told Jones that any time marriage powers are broached, concerns about "legalized homosexual marriage" would be brought up as well.
"The issue as to whether people would be concerned about whether there would be an effort to push for homosexual marriage was only discussed because he asked me what the concerns could be," Armstead said.
The West Virginia Legislature just passed a bill expanding home rule - including an amendment prohibiting any city participating in the program from passing ordinances dealing with marriage or divorce.
Home rule is a program that gives cities more power to regulate and tax.
Some prominent local politicians, such as Jones and state Senator Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, have stated the amendment is an effort to prevent gay marriages from occurring.
Jones also claims the issue was brought up in a Republican caucus in the House.
"It came up in the Government Organization Committee that Charleston wanted to do gay marriage," Jones said.
That's another allegation Armstead hotly denies.
"Some individual delegates may have discussed gay marriage, but it was never brought up in any of the caucuses," he said.
Armstead pointed out that the bill was amended to include the provision about marriage in the House of Delegates Government Organization Committee before it came to the House floor.
Delegate Jim Morgan, a Democrat from Cabell County, is chairman of the Government Organization Committee.
The bill was also amended on the House floor. This amendment required all cities participating in the home rule program to drop any and all gun ordinances.
Jones pointed out that he couldn't legally perform gay marriages, even if he were granted the power to preside over a wedding by the state.
"I can't make gay marriage legal," Jones said. "Gay marriages will either be legal, or illegal, depending on the (U.S.) Supreme Court."
He is unsure if he will continue to pursue the power to perform marriages or attempt to have his ministry validated by the secretary of state.
"I probably won't," he said. "But I do have a lot of people ask me to marry them.
"They think I already have the power to do it," Jones added.
Jones' speech to council where he made the statements about Armstead and the House of Delegates is on YouTube.
Armstead believes Jones' recent outspoken criticism of the Legislature hurts Charleston moving forward.
Jones has also strongly criticized the House of Delegates' amendment to the home rule bill nullifying Charleston's gun ordinance.
Charleston, which is one of four home rule cities currently in the state, has ordinances requiring a three-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun and background checks for the purchase of a handgun.
The city also restricts individuals to one handgun purchase every 30 days.
"He can say what he wants, but the way this has played out could make it more difficult for Charleston to get legislative support for anything in the House," Armstead said.