US Supreme Court Reignites West Virginia Marriage Debate
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginians can expect the issue of same sex marriage to resurface in the Legislature and in the crucial 2014 elections after the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the matter.
The push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman is certain to continue after last week’s pair of rulings celebrated by same-sex marriage advocates. A divided Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples, and in a separate decision legalized gay marriage in California on a technicality.
"I do think there’s an urgency to it," said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead. "At the very least, it should be taken up during the next session."
While the Kanawha County Republican hopes Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will consider calling a special session on the issue, Delegate Stephen Skinner questions whether the momentum has shifted away from gay marriage foes. A freshman Democrat and the Legislature’s first openly gay member, Skinner previously headed Fairness West Virginia, a group that advocates for the state’s estimated 57,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents.
"It lets the air out of their tires," Skinner said, referring to the Supreme Court action. "There’s really not much reason for a constitutional amendment, except to promote discrimination and promote homophobia."
West Virginia already defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. It also does not recognize same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, under state law provisions enacted in 2000. Advocates of a constitutional amendment argue that the statutes are insufficient and vulnerable to a legal challenge.
"We don’t know when someone might file a lawsuit or have some other issue come up where a judge can review that issue," Armstead said. "I believe a majority of West Virginians want it defined as between one man and one woman. I think that means we need to go to the next step."
Armstead and fellow GOP delegates have repeatedly led the charge to put a proposed amendment on the ballot. But the necessary measure routinely idles in committee each session, never advancing. That recurring fate has sometimes prompted Republican-led efforts to force the stalled measure to the House floor. Democrats have blocked each attempt, arguing it violates the committee process. Saying the 2000 law is sufficient, they’ve also accused the GOP of grandstanding on a divisive social issue for political gain.