Advocates for marriage equality are cheering last week’s ruling by a federal judge that Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Virginia voters ratified the constitutional amendment in 2006.
Two couples — two gay men who were denied a marriage certificate in Virginia and a lesbian couple who were married in California but whose marriage is not recognized in Virginia — sued local agencies in federal court, arguing that Virginia’s marriage laws violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In a ruling officially filed on Valentine’s Day, U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen sided with the plaintiffs and concluded that Virginia’s marriage laws are unconstitutional. Among other legal precedents, Wright Allen cited the famous Loving case, in which the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages.
“Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family,” she wrote.
She also issued a stay on implementing her order, allowing the defendants to appeal the decision.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better ruling,” said Virginia Miles, a Reston resident.
The day the ruling was issued, Miles and her partner of 29 years, Sarah Fershee, were participating in a statewide protest by attempting to get a marriage license at the Fairfax County courthouse. They were politely declined, Miles said.
Many local Democratic lawmakers and officials praised the ruling.
“We hope this victory for marriage equality will spur the LGBTQ community in Fairfax, and our allies, to work with the [Democratic] Party to bring full equality and full human rights to all Virginians, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Christopher Schaffer, acting chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s LGBTQ Committee.
Others were critical of the concept of a judge overturning a law that was enacted by voters. Many Republican leaders in the state have also been highly critical of Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who opted not to defend the law during the trial, which occurred soon after he took office in January.
“Regardless of one’s stance on marriage, the people of Virginia were disenfranchised by this ruling as our voice and our vote that amended our Constitution have been rendered meaningless by a single federal judge with the assistance of our own attorney general,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia in a released statement. “Protecting a timeless institution for the well-being of children was the will of the overwhelming majority of Virginians and this ruling denies this important state interest as it places the desires of adults over the outcomes of children.”
Miles said she believes legalizing same-sex marriage provides more security for the children of those couples, as it ensures that both parents have the full spectrum of legal rights that straight couples have.
“Our relationships are not any different from heterosexual relationships and we should have the same benefits and rights,” she said.
While Miles believes the courts will ultimately overturn Virginia’s marriage laws, she and Fershee may not wait to get legally married in their home state. Now that the federal government is recognizing same-sex marriages, Miles said, it makes more sense for them to get married in a neighboring jurisdiction to begin receiving those federal rights and benefits.
“We are happy that we are living in these times where such a change is occurring,” Miles said.