Jul 28, 2014

Virginia’s Ban on Same Sex Marriage is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

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The Federal Fourth Circuit of Appeals today affirmed the lower court ruling that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The LGBT Democrats of Virginia are very excited to celebrate this ruling. Right now, I am extremely emotional and happy that my marriage, as well as many others, may soon be recognized in my home state and that many friends may soon be able to marry in our great Commonwealth.

Judge Floyd wrote the majority opinion and concluded: “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and who to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”

As I read the opinion, I sit here in tears. Point-by-point, the ruling dismantles arguments used to justify the denial of marriage to same-sex couples, including my marriage. This is an intensely personal issue for me, as the decision to marry is for everyone. I take my marriage vows seriously and feel that we deserve the same rights and responsibilities as all married couples. I am grateful to the courageous couples that stood up and sued for the right of all Virginia couples to marry. I also thank the many lawyers involved.

In a statement released by Attorney General Herring, he reminds us, “Since the founding of our country, we have been working to create the more perfect union that our Constitution promises… But inevitably, no effort to restrict the rights or limit the opportunities of our fellow Americans has ever succeeded in the long term… this is about much more than who wins or loses in court. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are fighting for the right of loving, committed couples to enter into the bonds of marriage. These fellow Virginians are asking the Commonwealth to convey to them the same rights and responsibilities that every other couple enjoys. They are asking to be treated equally, and if our Constitution guarantees anything, surely it is that.”

Due to the efforts of ACLU of Virginia and others, the case was accepted as a class action suit so all same-sex couples in Virginia who wanted to marry or wanted their marriages from other states recognized were represented. I, along with my my wife are both lifelong Virginia residents. I was born and raised in Caroline County, the county the Lovings called home. I recognize the place in history that Virginia holds with regards to marriage. We are thankful that our Attorney General, Mark Herring, chose to move Virginia forwards, towards a new era of equality. Todays’ decision in Bostic v. Schaefer applies to the two plaintiff couples who brought that case in Norfolk and to the 14,000 couples included in the class represented by the plaintiffs in Harris v. Rainey, the only marriage case in the country brought as a class action suit. “Marriage is a fundamental right of all Virginians,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This resounding decision sends a message to every committed and married couple in the Commonwealth that they are equal in the eyes of the law. The Virginia ACLU is proud to be able to say that we were advocates for the Lovings almost 50 years ago and grateful also to have had the privilege of representing the loving couples across Virginia who won the freedom to marry today.”

Many of you are probably asking, “What happens next?” There is a 21-day period where both sides have the right to seek an appeal or rehearing of the case before the full court of appeals. Attorney General Herring expects that the ruling will be stayed, and that the case will go to a higher court. In this case that would be the Supreme Court of the United States. Although it seems unlikely, if neither the opponents nor defendants in this case seek a rehearing or appeal the decision, marriages could commence after the 21 day period. This is one of approximately 30 positive decisions supporting marriage equality since the Windsor decision last summer by the Supreme Court of the United States, and the second federal circuit court decision. This decision also potentially affects the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia; the Fourth Circuit also includes Maryland where marriage equality already exists.

Today is a truly historic day, not just for same-sex couples in the 4th Circuit Court, but for all Virginians. All eight plaintiffs named in the suit, Tim Bostic and Tony London, Carol Schall and Mary Townley, Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff are Virginians. With each milestone we pass, we inch closer and closer to the realization of the promise of America; that someday, we may live in a truly respectful and equal society, where all are welcomed to live, work, and raise a family. Today, Virginia is truly closer to being for all lovers.

We hope that you will join us on September 6th at the Hospitality House in Fredericksburg VA, where we will have our 2nd Annual Equality Breakfast. The event will allow us time to honor those that have fought for this decision, and to celebrate the Democratic candidates that are asking for your vote so that they can stand firm and continue to fight for full equality for all LGBT Virginians. Individual tickets and sponsorships are available by clicking here (https://lgbtvadem.org/equality-bfast).

We hope to see you there!