Michael Hamar

Lambda Legal, ACLU File Suit Against VA's Marriage Ban

Filed By Michael Hamar | August 01, 2013 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality
Tags: 14th Amendment, ACLU, anti-gay bigotry, due process, equal protection, gay marriage, Lambda Legal, Marshall-Newman Amendment

Following up on their previously-announced intention to challenge Virginia's marriage discrimination amendment, Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed a class action suit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division. This comes in the wake of a suit filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, filed by a Norfolk couple.

The new lawsuit, as noted is a class action suit, and the plaintiffs are Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, and seeks to represent all same-sex couples in Virginia who wish to marry there or who have married in other jurisdictions. Here are excerpts from Lambda Legal's blog that discusses the lawsuit:

"Virginia is home for us. Our families are here, our jobs are here, and our community is a great support for us, but it makes us sad that we cannot get married where we live," said Joanne Harris, a lifelong Virginian and the daughter of Bedford, Va., farmers. "It hits me in the gut that two hours from our house same-sex couples in Maryland and D.C. can marry. I have a serious medical condition and we've had to spend lots of money to try to make sure that Jessi can make decisions for me if there were ever a crisis."

"I'm an Air Force veteran, and if Virginia would just respect our marriage from D.C., it would ensure that my spouse and family could access all the benefits I've earned," said Christy Berghoff, from Winchester. "I've been with Victoria for almost a decade now; and it hurts to have our home state say we are not married when it recognizes marriages entered into by different-sex couples who may have only recently met."

"More than half of the people of Virginia believe all Virginians should have the freedom to marry the person they love, said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. "Every day that same-sex couples in Virginia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that they are second class citizens and their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect."

virginia.jpegThe press release on the filing of the suit is here. The complaint itself can be found here. The following are some excerpts from the complaint:

The Named Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of themselves and the Plaintiff Class, seeking declaratory and injunction relief for the violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution caused by the exclusion of same-sex couples from the freedom to marry and from recognition of the marriages some Plaintiffs have entered into in other jurisdictions under the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia ("Commonwealth" or "Virginia").

Marriage plays a unique role in society as the universally recognized and celebrated hallmark of a couple's commitment to build family life together. It confers upon couples a dignity and status of immense import. Plaintiffs have formed committed, enduring bonds equally worthy of the respect afforded by the Commonwealth to different - sex couples through marriage. Yet, the Commonwealth, without any adequate justification, has enacted an unprecedented series of statutory and constitutional amendments to single out lesbian and gay Virginians by excluding them from the freedom to marry, or by refusing to recognize their existing marriages from other jurisdictions, based solely on their sexual orientation and their sex.

The marriage ban inflicts serious and irreparable harms upon same sex couples and their children. Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff are unmarried, and wish to marry for the same reasons as different - sex couples to publicly declare their love and commitment before their family, friends, and community, and to give one another and their son J. H. D. the security and protections that only marriage provides. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd have married in another jurisdiction, but are treated as legal strangers in the state they call home a painful invalidation of their relationship that also deprives them and their daughter L. B. K. of the protections that a legally recognized marriage most securely provides.

[T]he Commonwealth's exclusion of same - sex couples from marriage and refusal to recognize their valid marriages from other jurisdictions and Defendants' enforcement of the marriage ban violate the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As the Supreme Court has made clear, the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give effect to private biases. Liberty and equality, not moral disapproval, must be the guiding framework for a state's treatment of its citizens.

Excluding same - sex couples from marriage does nothing to protect or enhance the rights of different - sex couples. Different - sex spouses will continue to enjoy the same rights and status conferred by marriage regardless of whether same - sex couples may marry, unimpaired by the acknowledgment that this freedom belongs equally to lesbians and gay men.

The Commonwealth's interest in child welfare is affirmatively harmed rather than furthered by the exclusion of same - sex couples from marriage. That exclusion injures same - sex couples' children without offering any conceivable benefit to other children. . . . Other courts have found, after trials involving expert testimony, that there is no rational basis for favoring parenting by heterosexual couples over gay and lesbian couples.

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