Gay Marriage – W.Va. lawmakers question need for marriage amendment

Posted on 24 Feb 2009 at 12:26am
By Lawrence Messina Associated Press

Family Policy Council continues to push for amendment; leader says group meets requirements for fundraising

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Legislature’s top leaders say there isn’t much enthusiasm for an emerging campaign that seeks a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in West Virginia.

Both Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Rick Thompson believe lawmakers have already tackled that topic. The legislation they passed in 2000 ignores same-sex marriages granted elsewhere. It also declares on all marriage license applications that marriage is designed to be between a woman and a man.

"I think the Senate spoke very clearly," said Tomblin, D-Logan. "The Senate is on the record on this issue."

Gov. Joe Manchin echoes that view. A Democrat, Manchin turned down The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, the group behind the campaign, when it pressed him to add it to his legislative agenda last year.

"If that law were in danger of being overturned, the governor would call a special session to address it," Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said Thursday, Feb. 19. "However, he believes that currently already covers it."

Council President Jeremy Dys hopes to change their minds, with a planned March 1 show of support for a constitutional amendment. He expects hundreds of churches across West Virginia will take part in the council’s "Stand4Marriage Sunday."

Dys also believes his group has filed the necessary legal paperwork to solicit contributions from state residents for its campaign. Though the council reported to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that it raised more than $170,300 in 2007, the latest year for available records, it has not registered with the secretary of state’s charities division.

Charities must file with that office if they raise more than $25,000 in one year. The IRS recognized the council as a charitable organization in 2000 and exempted it from taxes, when it was known as the West Virginia Values Coalition.

"As far as I know, we are compliant with [state] law," Dys told The Associated Press in an e-mail late Feb. 18. "If we are not, we would, of course want to correct any error immediately.

The council cites legal challenges in California and elsewhere to argue that West Virginia’s law is inadequate. Voters in at least 30 states, with the latest including California, have amended their constitutions to bar same-sex marriage. Among the remaining states, gay rights activists are pressing lawmakers in New Jersey, New York and Vermont to take up bills to legalize such marriages.

Thompson, D-Wayne, questioned the proposal’s prospects in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, citing reports that the council had enlisted Republican-allied groups to aid its campaign.

The council hired Advantage Inc., a GOP survey firm out of Nebraska, to conduct a poll that it says shows a clear majority of West Virginians in support of a constitutional amendment. It also launched two Web sites with the help of Mark Montini of the Republican consulting firm CampaignSecrets.com.

Montini said he provided the council with Web-hosting software from a separate, nonpolitical division of his company, but that neither he nor CampaignSecrets.com have been involved in the campaign.

But the Georgia consultant has previously been part of the battle over same-sex marriage. A gay Washington couple sued Montini in 2005, alleging he used a photo from their wedding without permission as part of an ad campaign waged by USA Next, a conservative group. A judge in that state later barred further use of the photo.

Minority Republicans in West Virginia’s Legislature have pressed for a constitutional amendment on marriage in the past, and have introduced the necessary resolutions in both the House and Senate this year. House GOP members have also made the measure part of their agenda for the 60-day session.

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