Federal court overturns Virginia same sex marriage ban

A federal court in Virginia has ruled that Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional, but the ruling was suspended in anticipation of an appeal, meaning no same sex marriages will yet be recognized in Virginia pending that appeal.

gay-equalityThe ruling came in a case filed in Norfolk where attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies were counsel. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner and Block filed a separate case on behalf of two couples in Harrisonburg that was certified as a class action representing all same-sex couples in the state.

“This is a wonderful day for all loving and committed couples in Virginia who only ever wanted the same protections for their families as anyone else,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “The court is right to strike down this sweeping and discriminatory ban. We congratulate the attorneys and their clients.”

In her opinion, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen wrote: “Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships.Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices-choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.”

The Norfolk lawsuit was originally filed in July and argued that, through the marriage bans, Virginia sent a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

“The steady march toward equality continues today with this historic decision,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Support for the freedom to marry has seen an amazing increase in the past few years, and we will continue to work to ensure that all couples have access to the dignity and protection that only comes with marriage.”

The ruling does not affect the Harrisonburg class action case, which will continue in the federal district court for the Western District of Virginia. Attorneys in that case recently asked the judge for a quick ruling. That motion for summary judgment is still pending.

“We congratulate the Bostic plaintiffs and their counsel. The district court for the Eastern District of Virginia correctly recognizes that the constitutional principles that undergird the UnitedStates v. Windsor decision require that same-sex couples be allowed to marry and that the marriages they enter in other jurisdictions be equally honored in their home states. This is the fifth consecutive district court decision in less than two months to so rule, and we are hopeful that the District Court in the Western District will soon issue a decision in Harris v. Rainey agreeing that Virginia’s discriminatory marriage laws cannot stand,” said Greg Nevins, counsel in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta.

More information on this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/harris-et-al-v-mcdonnell-et-al.

The opinion can be found at: legaltimes.typepad.com/files/edva-ssm-opinion.pdf.


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