VA Congressman Denver Riggleman officiated a same-sex wedding earlier this month, contrary to his party’s official platform. But an official Republican Party vote to censure him for it received very few votes, and ultimately failed.
A lot of things are surprising about Denver Riggleman, the freshman Republican Congressman from Virginia’s 5th district. One is that, in order to win his election, he had to defeat Leslie Cockburn, who is both a celebrated investigative journalist who has appeared on 60 Minutes and the mother of actress Olivia Wilde. Another is that, during his campaign for Congress, his interest in Bigfoot got a very public airing, focusing on Instagram posts that appeared fascinated with the cryptid’s genitalia.
In spite of all this, it’s less surprising that he won his 2018 election — Riggleman represents a district centered around Danville, where a sign that greets visitors to the city declares it “The Last Capital of the Confederacy — And Proud Of It.”
Ah, but don’t assume you’ve got Denver Riggleman figured out just yet. Before he ran for Congress, his day job was as the owner of Silverback Distillery, a liquor company based outside Waynesboro that makes craft vodka, gin, and whiskey, among other things. And earlier this month, he officiated a wedding between Alex Pisciarino and Anthony LeCounte, two men who had volunteered for Riggleman’s 2018 campaign for Congress.
Are you surprised? You’re not half as surprised as members of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee were. On Saturday, in the tiny hamlet of Boone’s Mill, located south of Roanoke along the road to Martinsville, members of the committee attempted to officially censure Riggleman for his decision.
“I move that the committee censure Denver Riggleman for failing to uphold the Republican Party platform in that it states ‘marriage is between one man and one woman,’” read the motion, introduced by committee member Wendell Johnson, who represents Bedford County.
However, for the most part, Johnson’s motion met with an uninterested committee. The chairman, Melvin Adams, declared that the motion was out of order, and Diana Shores, a committee member representing Cumberland County, voted to overrule Johnson’s motion. With only four of the more than two dozen Republican committee members in attendance voting for Johnson’s motion, it was denied.
Despite the Republican Party’s platform, Riggleman has always maintained a hands-off position about marriage equality, and after officiating at the Pisciarino-LeCounte nuptials, he told the Washington Post, “My real belief is that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, but if it is, everybody has to be treated equally before the law.”
“It also comes down to love is love,” Riggleman continued. “I’m happy to join two people together who obviously love each other.”
After learning of the 5th District Republican Committee’s decision on the motion to censure, Riggleman — who had missed the meeting as he was in Arizona learning about border security — released a statement via his political director, Kurt Lofquist. “Congressman Riggleman has full confidence in the committee and applauds their decision to continue to make the Republican Party an inclusive party of liberty and freedom for everyone,” Lofquist said, according to the Roanoke Times.
Riggleman’s position on marriage equality reflects a growing support for the issue among Republicans, especially younger ones. A 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that Republicans between 18 and 49 are 50 percent in favor of marriage equality, while only 28 percent of Republicans over 65 support it.
The fact that the 5th District Republican Committee is mainly made up of middle-aged and older Republicans, while Riggleman himself is 49, surely plays some role in how all of this worked out.
Make no mistake, Riggleman is not a saint; FiveThirtyEight finds that he has voted in accordance with Donald Trump’s positions 92 percent of the time during his tenure in Congress thus far. However, the fact that he is willing to take strong stances in favor of LGBTQ rights shows that maybe he ain’t entirely bad, either.
Top Photo via Congressman Denver Riggleman/Facebook