When Anthony “Rek” LeCounte and Alex Pisciarino tied the knot last summer, they didn’t expect their wedding to become a flash point in a congressional campaign.
Shortly after moving to Charlottesville for graduate school at the University of Virginia, the pair of gay Republican activists became volunteers for Denver Riggleman, a libertarian-leaning distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer running for an open House seat. They struck up a friendship, and after Riggleman won the hard-fought race, the couple asked him to officiate their wedding at a nearby vineyard that summer.
“It was so exciting and such an honor for Alex and Rek to ask me to conduct a same-sex wedding,” Riggleman told VICE News, calling the pair friends who “obviously love each other.”
But some of the GOP activists in the Southern, rural-heavy district were furious that Riggleman would marry two men. A trio of Republican county committees officially censured him, and a similar attempt at the district level fell just short.
“We kind of expected some folks might be upset, but we weren’t expecting how fiercely angry and persistent they would be about it,” LeCounte told VICE News. “It’s frustrating. It’s unpleasant. The fact that there are all these people around the district who have opinions about our wedding is a very bizarre thought.”
Now, the congressman is facing a real test against a hard-right candidate in a race where a small cadre of diehard activists will determine if he gets renominated.
One of the activists who expressed outrage about the wedding was Bob Good, then the athletic director at Liberty University, a birthplace of the modern religious right that lies just outside the district.
“You can’t flaunt your apparently progressive/liberal values in front of the conservative Republican base in the district and expect to not catch any flak for it,” Good said on Facebook after posting a write-up of the wedding from the Washington Post.
He’s now running against Riggleman