ATHENS, Ala. — A gay businessman and one-time police officer who is married to another man says GOP leaders in a north Alabama county refused to let him run for sheriff after a review that included questions about his sexual orientation.
Jason White told the News-Courier of Athens that members of the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee voted Tuesday to deny his bid for sheriff in a decision he believes is linked to the fact he is gay.
"I think it is obvious," he said.
White, 40, said he now plans to run for sheriff as an independent, and Republicans must find another candidate if they want an opponent for longtime incumbent Mike Blakely, a Democrat.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm not deterred," said White, who spent 22 years in law enforcement and co-owns a private security company in Huntsville.
Noah Wahl, chairman of the county GOP executive committee, said in a statement late Thursday that White's lack of involvement as a Republican, not his sexual orientation, was the reason for his rejection.
A former Athens police officer, White qualified to run for Limestone County sheriff in 2002 but lost in the primary. White said all he had to do to qualify as a candidate then was complete qualifying papers and pay a qualifying fee.
White, who was married to a woman at the time, has since divorced and married former Navy SEAL Brett Jones in Indiana; the two men live in the county and have a teenage son. Jones has published a book about coming out as gay and leaving the military.
In qualifying to run this year, White had to fill out a form that includes questions about whether candidates have ever voted for a Democrat; if they believe "in the traditional definition of marriage"; and if they were "committed to protecting life at all ages."
About two weeks before the vote, White said a county Republican steering committee asked for an interview in which he was asked to name two weaknesses as a candidate.
"I said the fact I was fired and that I'm gay," White said. White said members then had a lengthy conversation that included remarks like, "We don't think we'd be able to raise any money for you," and "We're a small Southern town; how are we going to get around that?"
White said the committee spent more time talking about his sexual orientation than his dismissal by the Athens Police Department in 2012 over allegations he wrongly used a state crime database to look up information linked to his ex-wife.
Before the vote Tuesday, White said members of the county committee asked whether he voted for Donald Trump for president.
"I said, 'No, I voted for (Libertarian candidate) Gary Johnson,'" White said. "You'd think I had stabbed them."
Wahl said two-thirds of the 34-person committee voted against letting White run. In the statement, he pointed out White's lack of support for Trump and his not contributing to other GOP candidates.
"The challenge to Mr. White's request for candidacy as a Republican was simple, was he a Republican? After careful deliberation the committee could not answer that question with a yes," Wahl said.
Republicans could still get someone in the race since prospective candidates have until Feb. 9 to file qualifying papers.
Information from: The News Courier, http://www.enewscourier.com