March 17, 2014 at 3:42 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Same-sex marriage opponent elected chair of Va. Dems
Richmond, Virginia, Dwight Jones, Fredericksburg, Democratic Party, Jason Graham, gay news, Washington Blade

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones (on left) with Fredericksburg Democratic Committee Chair Jason Graham on Saturday before Jones became chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Read)

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones on Saturday was elected chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia in spite of his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The majority of the 300 members of the DPVA’s State Central Committee backed Jones in a voice vote during their meeting at a suburban Richmond hotel. Jason Graham, chair of the Fredericksburg Democratic Committee, is among those who opposed the Richmond mayor’s nomination.

The LGBT Democrats of Virginia initially opposed Jones’ nomination after Gov. Terry McAuliffe earlier this month announced he had tapped the Baptist minister who served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1994-2008 to chair the state party. Joel McDonald, a member of the Virginia Beach School Board who is the vice chair of technology and communication for the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, told the Washington Blade on Monday his group dropped its opposition after Jones said during a March 10 meeting he is “not out there railing against” same-sex marriage.

“He’s just not in a place where he feels he can support it,” said McDonald, who spoke during the DPVA meeting before Jones’ election. “As chair, [he said] I want to help you achieve your goals.”

State Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), who sponsored a proposed resolution earlier this year that sought to repeal the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006, is among those who also opposed Jones’ nomination.

The Alexandria Democrat earlier this month noted in a statement that Jones has “a strong and impressive record of support on civil rights” and “a wide range of issues of benefit to the LGBT community” that includes his 2011 executive order banning anti-gay discrimination. Krupicka said Jones’ opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples “casts a shadow over these efforts.”

“Disregard or dismissal of the importance of marriage equality to the overall fight for LGBT equality calls into question the commitment our party has to the goal of equality,” said Krupicka.

Jones did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment. He referenced the meeting he had with LGBT Democrats of Virginia during his speech after members of the DPVA State Central Committee formally elected him to succeed state Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria).

“There is so much work that needs to be done and yes you have read and heard about my discussions with the LGBT community,” said Jones. “I think that’s why I’m a Democrat because those kinds of open discussions are the kinds of discussions that make us strong and allow us to evolve.”

Jones added he believes in the “principles of the Democratic Party.”

“We are the party that fights for social justice,” he said. “We are the party that fights for equal treatment under the law. We are the party that stands up for economic fairness.”

Krupicka on Monday referred the Blade to his previous statement about Jones’ nomination when asked to comment on the Richmond mayor’s election to chair the DPVA. Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) congratulated Jones, even though he said he would have “preferred that the new state Democratic chair be an outspoken champion of marriage equality.”

“I will work with him to elect more equality-minded Democratic officials,” Ebbin told the Blade. “Mayor Jones’ statement that his views are ‘evolving’ gives me hope that he will eventually join our state’s five top officials in supporting marriage equality. I intend to continue pushing him to do just that.”

Jones’ election to chair the DPVA comes amid the ongoing debate over marriage rights for same-sex couples in the commonwealth.

McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring all support nuptials for gays and lesbians. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May is scheduled to hold oral arguments in two cases that challenge the constitutionality of the state’s marriage amendment – U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen last month struck down Virginia’s gay nuptials ban.

The DPVA in 2012 approved a resolution in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. It also backed the issue’s inclusion in the Democratic National Committee’s 2012 platform.

“Your stand for equality and for the core values of the party will make us a stronger party,” LGBT Democrats of Virginia Chair Maggie Sacra told members of the DPVA State Steering Committee before it approved Jones’ nomination. “The LGBT Democrats of Virginia are forever dedicated to being a strong voice for full equality and a stronger supporter for pro-equality candidates.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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