Family Policy Council campaigning to put anti-gay-marriage amendment on ballot
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group that wants to amend West Virginia’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman is running an online ad that likens same-sex marriage supporters to snipers targeting families.
The group, The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, has yet to register as a charity with state officials, though it’s reported raising enough to trigger that requirement.
The council wants the Legislature to allow a statewide vote on the amendment, similar to those passed in at least 30 states.
Council President Jeremy Dys announced Wednesday, Feb. 18 that hundreds of churches across West Virginia would take part in "Stand4Marriage Sunday" March 1 as part of its campaign.
The council has posted a five-minute video on one of its Web sites and on YouTube.
"Marriage began in the heart of God," the narrator says as the ad starts.
About a minute into the video, the crosshairs of a rifle scope appear over the image of a family blowing bubbles. The narrator warns that "same-sex marriage is a closer reality in West Virginia than you may think," and that activists are "working tirelessly to define marriage away from God’s design."
Dys did not respond to e-mail and voicemail requests for comment Wednesday.
The video has caught the attention of bloggers and other media this week. The Huffington Post was among those dubbing it the "gay snipers" video. It also received online mention from The Washington Monthly and Politico, earning it tens of thousands of views on YouTube.
But some of campaign critics believe the video diverts attention from the effort’s possible political agenda.
"There are a lot of fingerprints on this campaign that are not from West Virginia," said Seth DiStefano of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Both of the council’s Web sites were created with the help of CampaignSecrets.org, a Georgia firm that says it is "focused exclusively on electing Republicans to local office." The council also commissioned a GOP-allied company from Nebraska, Advantage Inc., to poll West Virginians on the marriage question.
DiStefano cited use of such ballot initiatives as partisan wedge issues in other states, particularly in 2004. He also noted the failed 2006 effort by Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship to oust Democrats from the House of Delegates with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that invoked gay marriage.
Dys told The Associated Press last week that the council was an independent group allied with similarly named organizations in nearly 40 other states and with the national Focus on the Family.
"We have no legal and no financial connection to any of them," Dys said. "We’re completely supported by the faith-based giving of West Virginians."
The council was called the West Virginia Values Coalition when it formed in late 2005, and it obtained tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service the following year, according to its filings with the secretary of state’s corporations division.
But that office’s charities division lists no registration for the council, though it requires one from groups that solicit at least $25,000 in West Virginia donations in one year.
The council raises funds through both its Web sites. Its latest available filing with the IRS, from 2007, lists $170,320 in contributions. By then, it had changed its name to The Family Policy Council and made Dys, a lawyer who came to West Virginia from Florida, its president.
Last week, Dys filed new registration papers for the council with the corporations division. He also renamed the entity that originally registered as the Values Coalition as the council’s education fund.
On the Net:
Family Policy Council: www.familypolicywv.com