Staunton Couple, ACLU, and Lambda Legal Announce Challenge to VA’s Ban on Gay Marriage
Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, and their daughter Lydia – All photos via GayRVA Staff
The ACLU of Virginia held a press conference today to announce the filing of a federal class action lawsuit to challenge Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage; The Marshall-Newman Amendment.
The lawsuit is being filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Virginia, and Lambda Legal. They will be representing two different couples who are the plaintiffs in the case: Joanne Harris, 37, and Jessica Duff, 34, from Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, both 34, of Winchester. The two couples are long standing Virginia residents who are determined to stay settled in Virginia, despite having their unions unrecognized by the Commonwealth.
Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, and their daughter Lydia
Both couples have children; Berghoff and Kidd are raising an eight-month old who is the biological daughter of Berghoff, and Harris and Duff have a a four-year-old son. While Harris and Duff were absent from the press conference, Berghoff and Kidd had a chance to talk about their intentions behind the case, “The suit is not about recognition for Christy and I, so much as it is about protecting our daughter,” said Kidd, “Currently the state’s stance on marriage doesn’t allow us to do that now”
The ACLU of Virginia’s Executive Director, Claire Gastañaga said that litigation is the only feasible way to end the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which had originally passed in 2006 by a 57% popular vote, “Things have changed radically. When we decided to add discrimination to our constitution, we were writing that discrimination in for future generations and that we’d be making it very difficult for those future generations to express their will differently. If we thought we had a viable political legislative alternative to going to court in Virginia, we would have taken it,” said Gastañaga. ”But the reality is because of the way our legislature is districted and because we don’t have initiative to referendum the direct ballot in Virginia, unlike many other states – we don’t have a choice.” The public opinion on gay marriage has changed in recent years however, with surveys from both Quinnipiac, Gallup, and the Human Rights Campaign showing more than 50% of Virginians now support same-sex marriage.
Amanda Goad, a Staff Attorney for the ACLU, mentioned that all same-sex couples in Virginia may have a chance to have their marriages recognized if the anti-gay marriage amendment is overturned, “We also filed today’s case as a class action lawsuit, that means we will be looking to represent the two couples named on the legal papers, but all same-sex couples who wish to marry in Virginia, as well as all the same-sex couples who call Virginia home who are validly married in other jurisdictions, but currently do not have those marriages respected by their home-state.”
Amanda Goad, National ACLU
The ACLU and both couples are going through with the suit with the help of Lambda Legal, a non-profit organization that’s represented LGBT members and those with HIV since 1973. Gregory R. Nevins, a supervising senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, who’s worked on cases here in Virginia in the past, spoke the strong family values that same-sex couples are capable of having, “I think everybody benefits when the law respects someone who loves their partner, or wife, or the child their upbringing,” said Nevins, “It’s a better place when ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ is not just something said on the bumper sticker, but really meant and followed through with.”
The lawsuit is being filed through the Western District of Virginia in the Harrisonburg Division. When asked why the lawsuit was filed out in a less populated area of the state, Goad said that the filing in Harrisonburg was a decision to, “highlight the need for the freedom to marry is not just an urban issue and not just a liberal enclave issue, but something that is important to families all across the state.”
When asked about the timetable for the case, Nevins and Gastañaga both said that the case could take sometime, that could take, “two to three, maybe four years,” said Nevins, who also assured that Berghoff and Kidd both knew the extended legal battle they could be embroiled in. No answer was given about when the preliminary hearings of the case would be heard.
Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal
A same-sex couple from Norfolk also filed an unrelated lawsuit earlier in July, also seeking to challenge Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. The ACLU made no comment on that court case, however.
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