March 11, 2014 | by Earl Fowlkes Jr.
All Va. Dem leaders must back marriage equality
Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe, leadership

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s selection of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones as the new chair of the Virginia State Party has raised concerns among LGBT Democrats throughout the commonwealth. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

On Saturday, March 15, 32 members of the Virginia Democratic Central Committee will come together in Richmond to elect the chair of their party. As Virginia governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is the titular head of the party. His nomination as the Democratic Party Chairman along with the ratification by the party central committee is normally a foregone conclusion. However, Gov. McAuliffe’s selection of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones as the new chair of the Virginia State Party has raised concerns among LGBT Democrats throughout the commonwealth.

The major concern is that Mayor Jones, who is also the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Richmond, does not support marriage equality for LGBT Virginians. It would appear that Mayor Jones is out of step with the recent changes in attitudes and what the courts are saying about laws banning same-sex marriage. In fact, just recently, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Ironically, this is highlighted on the Virginia Democratic Party website under the banner “Virginia is for All Lovers.” A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 50 percent of Americans say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent says it does not.  In the 33 states that prohibit same-sex marriage, 53 percent of those polled support allowing it, while 40 percent oppose doing so.

The bottom line is that the American people are steadily coming around to this equality issue for the LGBT community. The president supports marriage equality, the national Democratic Party leadership supports marriage equality, and Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general all support marriage equality. So it’s not unreasonable for LGBT Democrats in Virginia to expect their state party chairman to support marriage equality.  Opposing same-sex marriage is on the wrong side of social justice and history in Virginia and in America.

Mayor Jones, referencing his church, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “We preach a gospel of love.” I would dare say that LGBT Virginians couldn’t care less about what he is preaching in his church, but would care about how he will be conducting Democratic Party business and using his leadership role to end discrimination for all Virginians.

If Mayor Jones is not for LGBT marriage equality then we must assume that he is against it and therefore should not be the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. LGBT Virginians have waited long enough for their party leadership to evolve on this issue. I should add that as an African-American gay man, I cringe when I hear black clergy talk about preaching the gospel of love but not always practicing the tenets of Christian love, which is rooted in fairness and justice, and often code for everyone but LGBT folks.

I would ask that Gov. McAuliffe name a party chair who believes in protecting the rights of all Virginians, including LGBT Virginians.

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