West Virginia House rejects anti-gay marriage measure

Posted on 01 Apr 2009 at 2:20pm
By Lawrence Messina Associated Press

Republicans wanted to force floor vote on measure stalled in committee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s House of Delegates voted along party lines Monday, March 30 to end this session’s chances for a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage.

An evangelical group has pressed lawmakers this session to have marriage defined as between one woman and one man.

But the resolution needed to put the issue before voters has stalled in committee. That prompted Monday’s move by Republican delegates to force it to the full House.

Delegates voted 67-30 to reject the attempt. All 29 House Republicans voted to move the measure out of committee, as did Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette.

West Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, under a 2000 law that also requires all marriage license applications to say "marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man." But amendment advocates argue that doesn’t go far enough and could be challenged in court.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut allow same-sex marriage, both in the wake of court rulings. Vermont lawmakers are poised to pass a measure legalizing it, though that state’s governor has pledged to veto it.

Thirty states have amended their constitutions to outlaw same-sex marriage. They include California, where a November vote reversed a 2008 court decision that permitted it there.

House Republicans similarly sought to force a vote on an anti-gay marriage measure in 2006. It became fodder for a failed election advertising campaign meant to increase the GOP ranks in that chamber.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia has pushed for this session’s resolution, citing a poll it says shows clear support for an amendment. It recently bombarded the revision committee’s chairwoman and the head of the House Judiciary Committee with sometimes abusive phone calls demanding action, and targeted Gov. Joe Manchin with a postcard campaign.

A Democrat, Manchin has said he supports the current law and questions the need to amend the constitution. Legislative leaders have echoed that stance and also question the group’s motives, citing its hiring of Republican consultants to conduct the poll and assist the publicity campaign.

Growing concerns over the budget and the handling of federal stimulus dollars have largely consumed the Legislature’s 60-day session, which ends April 11. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead invoked the poll and the specter of a court challenge to argue that forcing the resolution out of committee was "absolutely necessary."

"This is an urgent issue. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed," said Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Armstead’s majority counterpart replied that he routinely sees bills he favors die in committee, but predicted chaos if lawmakers abandoned the process.

"Once you start down the path of bypassing committees, there will be no ability to draw the line on what group, what issue or what initiatives are given special consideration," House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, told fellow delegates. "Short-term gain should never trump abiding by the rules, despite the outcome."

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