CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester on Monday said he supports overturning West Virginia's ban on gay marriage.
He is the first West Virginia mayor to join state gay-rights group Fairness WV in calling for an end to the law defining marriage as only between one woman and one man. Fairness WV is calling for more state political leaders to endorse same-sex marriage after three gay couples sued over the ban in October.
"I signed on simply because I do not believe that individuals should be denied their opportunity to marry someone they love and want to make a lifelong commitment to," Manchester said in a statement. "A marriage vow is the ultimate expression of commitment to another person. If two people love each other enough to make that commitment, the state should not stand in their way."
State lawmakers passed a law banning same-sex marriage in 2000. Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights group, filed federal lawsuits challenging the ban on behalf of three gay couples, two in Huntington and one in St. Albans.
The couples say they are not being afforded the same protections and benefits afforded to straight couples. Justin Murdock, a Fairness WV board member, and his fiancé, William Glavaris, are one of the couples suing.
"Mayor Manchester proves that he values the residents of his town for their contributions to the community without regard to their sexual orientation as should all elected officials," Murdock said in a statement. "Not only in Lewisburg, but in all parts of the state, folks like myself and my fiancé, are eager for the opportunity to commit to each other in marriage and the mayor's support is a promising step in that direction."
Forty-nine percent of West Virginia voters said they supported either same-sex marriage or civil unions, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling in September.
West Virginia doesn't recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. Also, the state's Human Rights Act doesn't include sexual orientation as one of the categories protected from housing and employment discrimination. State lawmakers have rejected several recent attempts to include gays and lesbians in the state's discrimination laws.
In June, in a 5-4 decision, U.S. Supreme Court justices struck down a key piece of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that a provision that denied benefits to legally married gay couples is unconstitutional.
Also, in another 5-4 decision, the court cleared the way for gay marriage to resume in California by ruling that supporters of Proposition 8, a gay-marriage ban, didn't have legal standing to challenge a lower court that overturned the law.
"I hope that by signing on to this statement of support for the freedom to marry that it causes greater soul searching among our leaders and among our neighbors on this issue," Manchester said.
"I hope that the residual fear and hatred that some people still feel toward gay and lesbian people will continue to dissipate over time and that gay and lesbian people will attain rights equal to everyone else, and that includes the freedom to marry."
Reach Travis Crum at travis.c...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.