In a move that has left some marriage equality advocates expressing dismay, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is reported to be considering appointing Mayor Dwight Jones (D-Richmond) to lead the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Mayor Jones, who also serves as a minister at the First Baptist Church of South Richmond, said the following after President Obama made a statement supporting marriage equality in 2012: “This is one issue that President Obama and I disagree on. Despite this disagreement, however, I applaud the efforts and work of President Obama and his administration and I will do whatever I can to ensure he is re-elected.”
This is not the first time McAuliffe has dismayed progressives within the base that elected him to office. As covered extensively in RH Reality Check, McAuliffe chose to retain his anti-choice predecessor’s secretary of health and human resources after running a campaign heavily focused on support for reproductive rights. McAuliffe also stung supporters of environmental justice with his picks for natural resources secretary and transportation secretary.
This latest controversial pick has gathered criticism within equality-focused constituencies in the legislature, the faith community, and the party.
The only openly gay members of the Virginia legislature, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), have stated opposition to appointing Jones to the unpaid position.
People of Faith for Equality in Virginia wrote a letter to the governor, which the group shared in a media advisory. It stated that the prospect of an appointment of Mayor Jones would “affect the perception by Virginians of your own commitment [to equal rights for LGBT Virginians].” The letter also asked that the governor discuss with the mayor his position on marriage equality and request that Jones make a public statement affirming a commitment to marriage equality and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.
LGBT Democrats of Virginia is running a petition calling on “all State Central Committee members to join with us in opposing Mayor Jones in this election for Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and in finding a candidate for party chair who supports equality and justice for all Virginians.”
Virginia has emerged as a key player in the national struggle for marriage equality. Earlier this year, a federal judge declared Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional and it has been suggested that the case could reach the Supreme Court.
While national shifts in progress and opinion toward same-sex marriage may appear rapid, they have taken time. RH Reality Check asked the Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline, president and CEO of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, to comment on Mayor Jones in light of the time it took President Obama to evolve. “Evolution does take a while but you have to start,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s what Mayor Jones is doing. People have to want [to evolve] … and show signs that they are. We’re not quite seeing that yet.”
An announcement of Gov. McAuliffe’s support for Mayor Jones in the party leadership seat is said to be possible as early as this week.