MANASSAS, Va.—A local church on Friday denied a Washington Blade staff writer access to an anti-gay marriage gathering at which Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli spoke.
A woman who was standing near the entrance of Reconciliation Community Church in Manassas in front of two men wearing dark suits who appeared to be security personnel asked this reporter for identification and proof of media affiliation after he identified himself as a Blade staff writer. He proceeded to show her his drivers’ license and business card.
The women concluded this reporter was a member of Cooch Watch, a group named for the nickname Cuccinelli received while he was an undergrad at the University of Virginia that had planned to protest. She then pointedly told him to turn his car around in an adjacent driveway and leave the church’s property.
Cuccinelli’s spokesperson, Brian Gottstein, told the Blade the attorney general “fully expected the media as well as the protesters to be” at the church.
“We had not heard otherwise,” he said.
Gottstein apologized to the Blade over the incident.
“However, it is the host of the event who decides who can enter their event, not us,” he said. “As I said, the attorney general was expecting an open event.”
Pastor John Peyton of the Reconciliation Community Church acknowledged he was asked to host the gathering at which Cuccinelli spoke — the attorney general said on his Twitter account earlier on Friday he was “looking forward to speaking at the Virginia Defense of Marriage Summit tonight!” Peyton told the Blade in an e-mail he “did not bargain for any protesters to come.”
“We have members who have been delivered from many sins by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “We also wanted respect for the guest[s] on our ground[s.] Sorry you weren’t allow[ed] in this meeting, but you may come back any Sunday and visit our church.”
The Manassas gathering was the last in a series of rallies and other events that took place across the commonwealth during the day-long Marriage Protection Virginia Bus Tour that began earlier on Friday at Liberty University in Lynchburg. It was part of the Traditional Marriage Tour the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a group founded by Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., organized.
Virginia was the seventh and final state that tour participants visited.
“Recent events including the president of the United States commenting that he supports gay marriage, instructing the Department of Justice not to enforce violations of the Defense of Marriage Act and a Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to strike down Proposition 8 in California, makes it necessary for us to act now,” said the High Impact Leadership Coalition in an Aug. 1 press release that announced the Traditional Marriage Tour.
In addition to Cuccinelli; Jackson, Bishop Eugene Reeves of New Life Ministries in Woodbridge, Va., and Phillip Goudeaux of the Calvary Christian Center in Sacramento, Calif., were among those scheduled to speak at Reconciliation Community Church. The Manassas event took place less than a week after Goudeaux described gay men as “predators” who seek to indoctrinate children during an anti-gay marriage gathering at a Baltimore church that Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Maryland Marriage Alliance Chair Derek McCoy, Jackson, Reeves and roughly 100 others attended.
Shelley Abrams, co-founder of Cooch Watch, told the Blade roughly a dozen members of her group who traveled to Manassas to protest Cuccinelli were also denied access to the church. One Cooch Watch member who arrived at Reconciliation Community Church around 4:45 p.m. told Abrams a woman said “there’s no rally here.”
Abrams said the protester looked at the church and told the same woman she recognized its name. The woman reportedly said only congregation members were allowed to attend the gathering.
“She said, ‘We’re not allowing protesters in and we’re doing God’s work,’” said the woman, according to Abrams.
Abrams further stressed churches typically allow Cooch Watch members to attend forums, meetings and other events they host.
“To be denied entry into what’s considered God’s house is appalling,” she said. “Not only that, this is a public official. We are Virginians and we want to hear what he has to say about same-sex marriage. And we were not given that opportunity. There is fear among the ultra-right wing of being exposed and they know that Cooch Watch is here to expose them.”
Equality Virginia spokesperson Kevin Clay also criticized the church’s decision to deny access to the gathering.
“It’s a shame that the press has been denied access to the attorney general’s speaking engagement,” he told the Blade. “At Friday’s event Cuccinelli spoke on the marriage amendment to a small group that most likely did not represent fair-minded Virginians. Behind closed doors, we suspect he rehashed the same overreaching rhetoric. At Equality Virginia, we expect our elected officials to represent all of the commonwealth’s citizens.”