California County Clerk Defends Same-Sex Marriage Ban

By Elliot Spagat | March 21, 2011 | 1:06 PM EDT

Lisa Solomon, a history instructor at Imperial Valley College, poses for a picture on campus Wednesday, March 9, 2011, in El Centro, Calif. Solomon, 50, has tried without success to organize a campus group to promote tolerance of gays. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

El Centro, Calif. (AP) - Chuck Storey ran for county clerk-recorder in a remote, desert corner of southeast California on a pledge to run a lean operation in churning out government documents like property deeds, birth certificates and marriage licenses.

"Imperial County needs a businessman," he said during last year's campaign.

Less than two months in office, the low-key real estate agent became something else: a very public face against gay marriage in California. Storey asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month to let him be the primary defendant in a lawsuit to uphold Proposition 8 - if a coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored the measure is removed.

Though Storey represents a county that voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage, his hometown critics say he was disingenuous when he didn't raise his intentions earlier. Many voters thought the county's role in the contentious issue ended Jan. 4 when the appeals court ruled its board of supervisors and deputy clerk had no legal standing to defend the ban.

Aaron Popejoy, president of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, said the new clerk didn't mention gay marriage, or give any hint of the legal bombshell he was about to drop,  at a Rotary Club lunch Feb. 24, the day before he stepped into the lawsuit.

"I'm a little disappointed that he would open up this can of worms for us," said Popejoy. "It's one of those huge red flags that draw the wrong kind of attention to our community. We need to be a little more warm and welcoming."

The Imperial Valley Press editorialized that Storey was inviting misguided stereotypes that the region is "bad or backward" - the kind of attention it got after becoming the only California county that tried to defend the marriage ban in 2009.