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.