Virginia Democrats and gay rights advocates are sharply criticizing Gov. Terry McAuliffe's pick to be the next chairman of the state party, saying Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones' position on same-sex marriage is in direct conflict with progress the party has made and should disqualify him as a candidate.
News of Mr. McAuliffe's choice leaked just weeks after the governor was cheering a federal judge's ruling that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and as support of same-sex marriage emerges as a key litmus test for public officials in the party across the country.
LGBT Democrats of Virginia said in a statement that the group cannot consider Mr. Jones' candidacy unless he makes a strong public statement in support of "legal marriage equality."
"We have a President, a Vice President, and a U.S. Attorney General who now stand on the right side of history, on the side of equality," the group said. "The Democratic Party of Virginia must not consider retreating on this issue."
Jones spokeswoman Tammy Hawley confirmed Monday that Mr. McAuliffe asked the mayor to pursue the position of chairman.
"He is pleased to do so for the party, which is accepting of all, regardless of skin color, sexuality, or religious beliefs," Ms. Hawley said in an email that stopped short of saying Mr. Jones' position on gay marriage had evolved. "The Mayor believes in equal protection under the law for all persons and does not believe that our laws should be discriminatory."
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy, meanwhile, said Monday that the governor "fully supports his good friend Mayor Dwight Jones."
"Governor McAuliffe believes the next state party chair should be a leader who will grow the party, manage the organization effectively and win elections," Mr. Coy said. "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."
Mr. Jones' personal views would still be crosswise with a resolution the party passed at a 2012 state convention that supported marriage equality and encouraged the 2012 national Democratic Party platform to include similar language.
At least seven of the Democratic candidates in the race for the seat of retiring Rep. James. P. Moran Jr. have already opposed Mr. Jones' candidacy or expressed misgivings about it because of his position on gay marriage.
Some local party committees are also protesting Mr. Jones' selection, which state party leaders could vote on when they meet in Richmond next weekend. Delegate Charniele Herring, Alexandria Democrat and the current state party chairwoman, is expected to step down from her post to run for the seat Mr. Moran is vacating.
Last month, after a federal judge struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional, Mr. McAuliffe applauded "the federal district court's decision to ensure all Virginians are treated equally under the law, no matter what their backgrounds are or whom they love."
"In order to grow our economy and attract the best businesses, entrepreneurs, and families to Virginia, we must be open and welcoming to all who call our Commonwealth home," he said. "As this case continues through the judicial process, I will enforce the laws currently on the books, but this decision is a significant step forward in achieving greater equality for all of our citizens."
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