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At pride parade, confidence that same-sex marriage will come to W.Va.

By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

With federal courts declaring bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in state after state, most recently Wisconsin on Friday, attendees at the 18th annual Rainbow Pride of West Virginia festival said on Sunday that the country is moving rapidly toward equality for LGBT individuals.

Charlie Rouse, former president of Rainbow Pride and the parade’s grand marshal, said he sees momentum here.

“We’re not so much playing catch-up here as we are waiting out our opponents,” Rouse said. He said West Virginia could see gay marriage very soon.

But Jane Fenton — who, with Nancy Michael, her partner of 16 years, is one of three couples challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage — said progress in other states makes the continuing ban here more frustrating.

“You know, why not us?” Fenton said. “Why are all these other states, you know, getting it, and not us?”

Fenton and Michael, along with two other couples, filed a federal lawsuit in October calling the state’s ban unconstitutional. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey intervened, defending the ban on behalf of the state. Gay marriage is currently legal in 19 states. Judges have ruled in favor of it in 12 other states, but those rulings are on hold, pending appeal. There are lawsuits challenging bans in every other state.

Fenton and Michael attended the parade and festival at the Haddad Riverfront Park with the Bridges of Grace United Church of Christ. They want marriage rights so Fenton can be legally recognized as a parent to their son, Drew, 7, who was born to Michael through artificial insemination. Fenton, 46, said she’s filed to have legal guardianship over Drew, but she said the paperwork doesn’t mean she’s guaranteed to retain guardianship over him should something happen to Michael.

Fenton said she hasn’t met anyone in West Virginia who treats her family differently from any others.

“It’s just politicians that care,” she said. “I think West Virginia is ready for it, the government’s just not ready for it.”

John Buckley, who is running for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian, is ready for it. Buckley was handing out fliers with his slogan “Live and Let Live” at the event. Buckley, who has been with his partner for 18 years, said that, to his knowledge, he’s West Virginia’s first openly gay statewide candidate. He said he wants the state to recognize his relationship.

“You do your thing, I do mine,” Buckley said in explaining his slogan. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have values, it just means you recognize the rights of other people in a free society.”

Buckley, who was elected as Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, connected his opposition to “big government” intrusions, like the controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs, to his opposition to government intrusion in social issues. He said this issue has unified gay rights advocates and conservatives behind him.

“I’ve said we’re in this together,” Buckley said. “Because the same big government that is enforcing morality is that big government that is stepping on your toes and your security and your freedom — that wants to eventually take away your guns, that wants eventually to tax you to death, that wants eventually to make you dependent for everything on government.”

He guessed that the U.S. Supreme Court will legalize gay marriage within two years.

Jerry Ratliff, the current president of Rainbow Pride, said he thinks same-sex marriage will come to West Virginia in a couple years, though he said his opinions are his own and cautioned that Rainbow Pride is an outreach organization rather than a political one.

Ratliff said the local parade and festival have gotten bigger every year. The estimated turnout for the parade and festival was 2,300 last year, and while he said he won’t likely have attendance figures for Sunday’s event for a few days, he said there has been near-record attendance during the 10 days of pride events leading up to the parade.

“We’re gaining a lot more support from the community at large,” Ratliff said. “When we first started, our vendors were pretty much a couple hot dog stands.”

Now, for the first year, he said, gay pride employee organizations from McDonald’s and Macy’s took part in the parade, which hundreds of people observed from the steps in front of the Schoenbaum Stage while attendees milled about the various booths and vendors behind them on Kanawha Boulevard.

Despite the current momentum of public and legal opinion behind the gay rights movement, Rouse said that the parade and festival were not so much about politics as about providing a refuge.

Aside from the occasional drag queen and the many rainbow flags, the event appeared very much the typical American festival, with music, funnel cakes, a photo booth, T-shirt sellers and many church organizations welcoming potential congregants.

Before the parade, there was a “Big Gay Dog Show!” competition in which Star, a 10-year-old miniature poodle mix — who’s available to adopt from the Kanawha Charleston Humane Association — won the best fancy dress award with a floral Hawaiian grass skirt.

The sun shone on the crowd and a dark cloud stood at bay as curious boats slowed on the Kanawha to watch red, white and blue adorned drag queen Bridget Nickles lip-synch a rousing version of the national anthem while hoisting a rainbow flag.

“This is meant for them to be out in the sunlight,” Rouse said. “And be without fear.”

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.


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