Evangelical Christian group got more than 70 ministers enlisted in its cause, and got a resolution from the state’s Southern Baptist Convention
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia legislators should expect a push for a constitutional amendment ruling out same-sex marriage, in the absence of new programs or big-ticket proposals during this budget-conscious session.
The Family Policy Council of West Virginia began the drive last year, when it unsuccessfully tried to pressure Gov. Joe Manchin to add the topic to a special session.
The evangelical Christian group enlisted more than 70 ministers in its cause, and won a supportive resolution from the state’s Southern Baptist Convention.
More recently, a Web site has been soliciting donations from West Virginians and asking pastors to quiz their lawmakers on the issue.
The site, wv4marriage.com, was launched last month and features an online form so clergy can report their results. While the site’s owner is not apparent from its pages, the contact listed on its domain registration is CampaignSecrets.com, a Georgia firm that bills itself as "focused exclusively on electing Republicans to local office."
Officials with the company did not respond to requests for comment Friday, Feb. 13. Asked whether the Family Policy Council was involved with the new Web campaign, council President Jeremy Dys said he was aware of it.
"I know who they are and I’ve been in contact with them," Dys said during a Friday phone interview. "Stay tuned on that."
Dys later said his group controlled the site, and said he contracted with the GOP-aligned company for the necessary Web-hosting services because of its affordable rates.
"Forgive me for sounding coy on the phone," Dys said later in an e-mail to an Associated Press reporter. "I had intended to release that information next week, and your call caught me a little off-guard."
Dys said the council’s campaign is bolstered by a 2008 poll it commissioned of 513 registered voters. Conducted by Advantage Inc., a Republican survey firm, it found 73 percent "likely" to vote for "a ballot initiative that defined marriage as ‘only a union of one man and one woman.’"
"The people of West Virginia want to define marriage for themselves," Dys said. "They don’t want a judge doing it for them."
West Virginia ignores all same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, under a 2000 law that also declares marriage "designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man" on all license applications.
Manchin invoked those provisions when rebuffing the Family Policy Council last year. His fellow Democrats in the Legislature, who hold majorities in both houses, have argued during earlier debates that they preclude the need for a constitutional amendment. Dys finds their stance unpersuasive.
"That is not a legally binding definition of marriage," Dys said. "What we have is a shield, not a sword."
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal only in Massachusetts and Connecticut, while 30 states have added gay marriage bans to their constitutions. Gay rights activists are pressing lawmakers in New Jersey, New York and Vermont to take up bills that would legalize same-sex marriage in those states.
Republicans in West Virginia’s House of Delegates have included a marriage amendment in their agenda this session. But Dys noted that the minority GOP has made it a top issue before, to no avail. "I view it as nothing different," he said.
Dys has instead placed his faith in what he describes as a grass roots movement that he predicted will grab lawmakers’ attention definitely by the 60-day session’s midpoint. He declined to offer details.
Legislative leaders from both parties question whether this or any other culture war topic will gain traction this session, which began Feb. 11.
"The members are pretty much set in their positions," said Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer. "I doubt that we do a lot on social issues."
Both he and House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, expect lawmakers will instead be busy finding ways to shore up the state’s economy as the recession continues.
"Our focus almost exclusively should be on doing as much as we can with what little we have," Webster said. "We need to keep people working. If we have ended the session on issues like that … I think we will have done a disservice to the public."
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press.