A Missouri woman says a Republican congressman abruptly left a wedding shower his family was co-hosting for her and her soon-to-be wife in 2018, allegedly out of fear of being seen at the event.
Ellen Neville-Verdugo, a family friend of the daughters of U.S. Rep. Billy Long, a Missouri Republican, says the congressman was in attendance at the wedding shower, but turned to his wife and told her he needed to leave.
“That someone would literally run away rather than be in a picture with you. These pictures were only for our memories. They were just for us and our family to look at years down the road, and for him to automatically assume that the ‘wrong people’ were going to know he was at a same-sex wedding shower and knew gay people and that that was so abhorrent. It was just really hurtful and humiliating,” Neville-Verdugo told the News-Leader, a Springfield, Missouri-based newspaper.
Neville-Verdugo says she and her then-fiancée were so embarrassed by the incident that they disinvited Long from the wedding — a move that could have potentially led to a rift between her family and the Longs, with whom she has been close since childhood.
A few days later, Long invited the women to lunch.
Instead of apologizing, he said that he had left the shower to save the lesbian couple from the “embarrassment” of having pictures with him.
“I thought it was a very convenient way to excuse his behavior, but I did not believe it at all,” Neville-Verdugo said.
Long allegedly said he did not want to “get in any trouble” with his family, leading the couple to re-invite him to the wedding, which he attended on Oct. 13, 2018, without incident.
Neville-Verdugo said she decided to re-invite him partly due to her relationship with Long’s wife and children.
“The three of them are very, very kind. They’re very kind to both my wife and I and seemed supportive of our engagement,” she said of the Long family. “The only reason I ever agreed to let him come to the wedding was because I valued my family’s relationship with his wife and daughters. And I did not want to see them get hurt.”
Neville-Verdugo kept that story of the rescinded wedding invitation, and her conversation with the congressman, private until last month, when Long voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would enshrine into law the right of same-sex couples to marry.
In the days after the vote, she posted about her experience on social media and submitted a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star.
“Rep. Billy Long recently said, ‘I act the same when somebody is watching or somebody is not watching.’ Days later, the U.S. Senate candidate and my family ‘friend’ of 20-plus years voted against protecting my family’s right to marriage with the Respect for Marriage Act,” Neville-Verdugo wrote in the letter.
Neville-Verdugo told the News-Leader she did not consider speaking publicly about Long’s attendance at her wedding until he voted against the marriage equality bill, mindful that sharing the story could have a negative impact on her relationship with Long’s family, whom she believes did not know the congressman had been temporarily disinvited from the wedding until recently.
“157 Republicans voted against protecting same-sex marriage. That’s a huge number. And one of those was someone that I know personally,” she said. “And I knew that he would be on that list, but part of me was hoping that because he knows me, because he knows my family — when I looked up the list of how the Congress people voted that day, part of me was hoping to see that he voted on the right side of history, but I knew that he wouldn’t.”
Neville-Verdugo said she reached out to the congressman and his family personally prior to speaking out, but did not receive a response.
She has also not heard from the Longs since she began sharing her story.
Staffers for Long’s Washington office did not respond to requests for comment from the News-Leader.
Long, who was first elected to his seat, which includes swaths of southwestern Missouri and the Ozarks, in 2010, recently fell short in his bid for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Roy Blunt, earning only 4.8% of the primary vote.
The congressman has become known as a bomb-thrower, often lobbing political insults on Twitter in a way that mimics former President Donald Trump. Due to southwestern Missouri’s large evangelical community, Long has largely embraced views that pander to the region’s social conservatism.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage — along with a host of bans in other states — in 2015, Long decried the court’s ruling as judicial overreach, arguing that each state should determine its own marriage laws.
“I am disappointed the Supreme Court has ruled to uphold same-sex marriage. This decision is troubling as it will overturn voter-imposed state bans on the practice, such as in Missouri,” Long told the News-Leader at the time.
“I believe this decision directly removes and marginalizes the will of the people,” he said. “It undermines the very democratic principle America is founded upon and deprives states of their Tenth Amendment rights. I join many southwest Missourians in expressing frustration with the Court’s judgment, as it violates the traditional meaning of marriage.”
As recently as last month, when he was voting against the Respect for Marriage Act, Long attacked fellow Missouri Republican and political rival Vicky Hartzler for missing the chance to vote against legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Rough & tough candidate @RepHartzler says she’s a ‘fighter’ but she didn’t have enough fight in her or courage to vote yea or nay. The courage of a #TransRINO,” Long tweeted.
#MOSen rough & tough candidate @RepHartzler says she's a 'fighter' but she didn't have enough fight in her or courage to vote yea or nay. The courage of a #TransRINO. 6/22/22 was the last day she voted in person on the house floor. Yesterday & today she couldn't even find a proxy https://t.co/WF7ARt8EKH
— Billy Long (@auctnr1) July 20, 2022
Long isn’t the only congressman to be accused of hypocrisy when it comes to same-sex marriage.
Recently, Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania was criticized by LGBTQ advocates for attending his gay son’s wedding after voting against a bill to codify same-sex marriage.
Thompson was caught on an audio recording, taken by one of the wedding guests and published by BuzzFeed News, toasting his son and his new son-in-law, saying that parents are happy when their children “find their one true love.”
Congressional Democrats have recently ramped up efforts to codify same-sex marriage into law following a recent Supreme Court decision overturning the right to obtain an abortion regardless of where one lives.
In a concurring opinion, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the court revisit past cases that have established the unenumerated “right” to privacy, such as decisions allowing married couples to use contraceptives, decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations between adults, and allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act say the legislation — which many Republicans have denounced as an election-year gimmick — is needed to ensure that same-sex marriages can continue, even if the conservative-leaning Supreme Court reverses its own precedent and strikes down its previous marriage ruling, just like it did on the issue of abortion.
As far as Long’s hypocrisy in attending a same-sex wedding while voting against same-sex marriage, Neville-Verdugo says her bigger concern is that the Supreme Court could strip away the right to marriage, a decision which might force her to leave Missouri because the state’s now-defunct ban would come back into effect.
“If that happened, it would probably be the worst day of our lives, and nothing is more important to me than my family,” she said. “I’ll do anything to protect my family. And my wife is my family so it’s just hard to even think about because I’m just so scared. … People really want to keep us from being married. People in this community want us to be torn apart from each other.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!