Virginia Democrats Divided Over Party Chairman Pick That Opposes Marriage Equality

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Mayor Dwight Jones (D) welcoming President Obama to Richmond in 2011.

On March 15, Virginia Democrats will elect a new state Chair of the Democratic Party, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has expressed his support for Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones (D). This has caused a sharp divide within the state party because Jones does not support marriage equality and he has a lengthy record to prove it.

The LGBT Democrats of Virginia have launched a petition opposing Jones’ election as chair, asserting, “Unless Mayor Jones makes a strong public statement in support of legal marriage equality, we cannot consider supporting him.” Among those also speaking out against the nomination are openly gay Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), openly gay Del. Mark Sickles (D), Del. Patrick Hope (D), and Congressional candidates Mark Levine (D), Bruce Shuttlesworth (D), and Derek Hyra (D). At this point, 71 Central Committee members and 40 local party officers have added their names to the petition.

Jones, who is also a Baptist church pastor, has defended his support for LGBT equality aside from same-sex marriage, but he remains committed to his church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. McAuliffe, who expressed his support for marriage equality during his campaign, continues to support Jones’ nomination, according to spokesperson Brian Coy:

COY: Governor McAuliffe believes the next state party chair should be a leader who will grow the party, manage the organization effectively and win elections. That is why he fully supports his good friend Mayor Dwight Jones. Mayor Jones has spent his life fighting for civil rights and for equal treatment for all Virginians under the law. He is a great mayor for Richmond and he will be a strong leader and voice for progress as chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

As a member of the House of Delegates, Jones voted in 2006 to support the constitutional amendment banning recognition of all same-sex relationships, and similarly supported a resolution encouraging the federal government to do the same. After President Obama endorsed marriage equality, he distanced himself from the President, and has refused to join a national coalition of mayors that support marriage equality. If elected chair, he’d be leading a state party that has encouraged the national Democratic Party to endorse the freedom to marry, which it did.

One nameless “Democratic insider” told the Washington Post that those dissenting in the name of LGBT equality are “our tea party.”