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Metro Weekly: Gay Marriage Come to Virginia Print


Created:  Monday, October 6, 2014

LGBT rights advocates and thousands of LGBT Virginians were greeted with a surprise on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Virginia and four other states, effectively upholding lower court rulings that found those bans unconstitutional. In the case of Virginia, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed to stand a lower court decision finding Virginia’s Marshall-Newman Amendment, which bans the recognition of any form of same-sex relationship, unconstitutional. Therefore, as soon as the 4th Circuit issues a mandate enforcing that decision, expected this afternoon, same-sex marriages can be legally performed in the commonwealth.

According to a tweet from the Fairfax County Circuit Court, headed by Clerk John Frey (R), as well as another from the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D), the 4th Circuit will issue its mandate at 1 p.m. Monday, at which point same-sex couples may begin obtaining marriage licenses. In a press release, Herring’s office said it was providing the necessary guidance to local clerks to allow them to begin performing marriages, and was working with the office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and other state agencies to implement any needed changes in light of the ban’s overturn.

“A new day has dawned, and the rights guaranteed by our Constitution are shining through,” said Herring, who argued at the district and appellate level for Virginia’s ban to be struck down. “All Virginians have a constitutional right to be treated fairly and equally, to have loving, committed relationships recognized and respected, and to enjoy the blessings of married life. We should all be proud that our fellow Virginians helped lead us forward.

“This is a tremendous moment in Virginia history,” Herring continued. “We will continue to fight discrimination wherever we find it, but today, we celebrate a moment when we move closer to fulfilling the promise of equality ignited centuries ago in Virginia, and so central to the American experience.”

Speaking at a press conference held outside the Arlington County Courthouse where he was flanked by Paul Ferguson, the Clerk of the Arlington Circuit Court, and several pro-LGBT politicians, including Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax counties), Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun counties), Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington Co.), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington, Fairfax counties), and Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette, Herring outlined the effect of the court’s decision. Same-sex couples married legally out-of-state will have their marriages recognized by the commonwealth, and same-sex couples will be able to legally adopt, enroll their spouses in their health insurance plans, and receive other marital benefits such as inheritance rights.

“This ruling allows all Virginians to be full members of our society,” he said.

The attorney general also threw down the gauntlet to pre-empt any county clerks who might try and refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

“Issuance of a license is a mandatory duty of a clerk, not a discretionary one,” Herring said firmly.

Ferguson said that couples who wish to get married must fill out a paper application — the clerks’ offices are still dealing with technological issues related to updating the marriage applications electronically — take an oath certifying that the information they have provided is correct, and pay a fee of $30 in order to receive a marriage license. They then may get married anywhere in the commonwealth within the next 60 days, either by a civil authority, such as a justice of the peace, or by a clergy member of their choosing.

The LGBT rights organization Equality Virginia issued a statement celebrating the news.

“Equality Virginia is overjoyed that loving lesbian and gay couples can now marry the person they love in the place they call home. After decades of work to change hearts and minds, the freedom to marry is now a reality,” said James Parrish, Equality Virginia’s executive director. “This is such an exciting and historic day, and we are thrilled for the thousands of couples whose relationships and families, will now be recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia! This day will be celebrated for a long time to come.”

In a follow-up interview with Metro Weekly, Parrish expressed surprise at the court’s decision not to hear the case, but also warned that residents of the commonwealth still have a lot of to do to guarantee full LGBT equality.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this process, it’s that federal courts like throwing curve balls like this one,” Parrish said, recalling the feelings of disenfranchisement felt by many members of the LGBT community after Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the state’s constitution in 2006. “That said, there is still a lot of work to be done on changing the hearts and minds of Virginians.”

Parrish said he could foresee some members of the General Assembly, particularly in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates, introducing so-called “conscience clause” bills that have passed in other states that would allow people to discriminate against same-sex couples. Under Virginia law, LGBT people may still be refused service in public accommodations such as restaurants, retail stores, educational institutions, rest stops and recreational facilities.

Parrish also said his organization would continue to push, as it has in previous years, for an employment nondiscrimination bill to pass the House of Delegates. Although McAuliffe previously issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in state employment, the organization wants those protections, which are only guaranteed to last through the end of McAuliffe’s term in January 2018, made permanent.

“Although it is not as glamorous or as publicized by the media as marriage, employment nondiscrimination has been and will definitely remain a priority of this organization,” Parrish said. “But for now, we want to focus on the positive outcomes of this decision. There’s an emotion of happiness across the Commonwealth today.”

Rev. Robin Gorsline, head of the pro-LGBT group People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), said his organization was “caught completely flat-footed” regarding the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Once again, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head,” Gorsline said. “No attorney I’ve talked to was predicting this. Part of me wants to grab my husband and run down to the courthouse to get married.”

On the other hand, Gorsline noted, now that there is no threat of the Supreme Court overturning the lower court rulings finding the ban unconstitutional, people no longer have to rush and can take their time planning weddings to their long-term partners.

Gorsline said that POFEV did not have any official events planned at this time, but noted that many clergy who are members of POFEV would likely be willing to help perform ceremonies for any same-sex nuptials. Interested couples should contact those clergy directly.

“We said in August that ‘we are ready for justice to break out across the Commonwealth,’ and now it has!” Gorsline said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include quotes from Herring and Ferguson at the Arlington press conference.