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Next stop, Virginia

More lawsuits coming on same sex marriage.


Almost overnight, Virginia has emerged as a critical state in the nationwide fight to grant gay men and women the right to wed.

This purple state was once perceived as unfriendly and even bordering on hostile to gay rights. That’s changed after a seismic political shift in the top three elected offices, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats who support gay marriage.

Two federal lawsuits challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage are moving forward, and a hearing on one of the cases is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Along with the recent court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, gay rights advocates are heartened by the new mood in Virginia.


One lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, involves two couples from the Shenandoah Valley who claim the state’s ban on gay marriage violates the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal are representing the plaintiffs.

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, said Virginia’s “intriguing” history on marriage rights played a role in filing the challenge here. A 1967 Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple invalidated laws on miscegenation, or interracial marriage.

The case involved Mildred and Richard Loving. The interracial couple had been living in Virginia when police raided their home in 1958 and charged them with violating the state’s Racial Integrity law. They had been married in Washington, D.C.

The Lovings were convicted before ultimately prevailing before the Supreme Court.

“The narrative in Virginia of how marriage plays into Virginia history, why the state was so important nationally for our struggle, is a very significant one,” Taylor said.

The other lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk on similar constitutional claims. The legal costs in that case are being paid for by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was behind the effort to overturn California’s gay marriage ban.

David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, the high-profile legal tandem that brought down California’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, lead the legal team in that challenge. Both cited Virginia’s history when they announced their challenge.

Olson also cited Loving v. Virginia in his comments on the case. These lawsuits take place against a backdrop not just of recent wins in court in Utah and Oklahoma, but also of the Democratic sweep in the November 2013 elections. New Attorney General Marc Herring was vocal on the campaign trail in his support of marriage equality, and the job of defending Virginia’s laws now fall to him. That’ll be one thing to watch. As has been the case nationally, opinions towards marriage equality have shifted considerably in Virginia, with a majority now in support. Texas will be up next after Virginia, so the news isn’t going to stop or even slow down any time soon.

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  1. Tim Bacon says:

    I’m wondering, actually I’m doubting, that Virginia is purple. I think it might be a deeply red state with two or three encampments or concentrations of blue, yet I’ve not tried to find the facts to back this up.

    Have you, or are you aware of anyone, who has looked at the votes by county to determine this? If I’m right, then those blue areas may be all that’s needed to count Virginia as a blue state, but I think it’s worth knowing for sure.

  2. Michael says:

    The job of defending the law does fall on him, or maybe not. Like California and Pennsylvania, this one is going to trial with the state apparatus on the side of striking down the law.

    “After thorough legal review, I have now concluded that Virginia’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” Herring said.