VA’s Ban on Same-sex Marriage Gets Its Day In Court
Updated: 2 PM
A legal powerhouse entered the Norfolk, VA, District Court this morning, and the state’s 2006 voter approved ban on same-sex marriage was on the chopping block.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, two couples from Central and Eastern VA, included Ted Olson and David Boies, part of the legal team that defeated California’s voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, known as Prop 8.
The two hour court proceeding opened with comments from Olson and Boies. Virginia labels same-sex relationships as “second rate” said Olson, who went on to proclaim marriage as a fundamental right. “Every time the Supreme Court deals with marriage, it says it is a right.” Olson listed 14 cases which backed up his statements (read more of the plaintiff’s arguments in the briefs here.)
Olson spoke like a grandfather overseeing his brood–it was both endearing and heartwarming to hear the known Republican appeal to the judge (and those in attendance) about the blight faced by same-sex couples in Virginia.
Sitting on the defense’s side of the court room, but there to support the plaintiff, was Attorney General Mark Herring. Herring didn’t speak during the hearing, but Stuart Raphael, Virginia’s Solicitor General, spoke on behalf of the state.
Raphael stressed Virginia’s history with civil rights law, and said, on this case, the state did not want to make the “same mistakes as our predecessors.” Brown V. Board of Education, which got rid of segregated schools, and Loving V. Virginia, which removed the ban on interracial marriage, were both brought up to show Virginia’s sordid past with these issues, and the state’s unwillingness to follow suit.
The defense, county clerks from Norfolk and Prince William County, had individual legal council. The arguments supporting the ban stemmed from procedural concerns. Both the 2006 vote which gave Virginians the chance to support the issue and the continued failure of the General Assembly to remove the ban legislatively suggested the law should stay in place, argued the defense.
Additionally, the defense argued marriage is an ancient union steeped in tradition. Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom stressed this point saying “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman throughout history… the only fundamental right to marriage is for traditional couples.” ADF lawyers also cited the gay and lesbian agenda, saying LGBTQ individuals are not a persecuted class, and the presence of the AG helping their cause suggests a conspiracy against straight people.
“Sometimes, the voters and legislatures get it wrong,” said Olson during closing statements. “This time they got it wrong.”
“Gays and lesbians contribute the same way straight people do in every way, except where they can’t by law.”
District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, who oversaw the hearing, said little and interacted even less except for a few nods and smiles. At the end of the hearing, she thanked members of the defense and the plaintiffs and said she would take the issue “under advisement” and they would “hear from her soon.”
No injunction was issued from the bench; both parties asked for either a limited injunction or a stay on any injunction–meaning if Judge Wright Allen sides with the plaintiffs and strikes VA’s Same-sex Marriage ban, marriage between same-sex couples would not be legal until a higher court ruled on the issue.
A press conference followed the hearing. Gay RVA will be bringing you those details shortly.
At stake is the future of the state’s 2006 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. After the fall of sections of DOMA, states across this nation have seen their bans on same-sex marriage get shut down for constitutional reasons – the 14th amendment, which deals with being treated equally under the law, has been the root of many of the death-strokes for these bans.
Today, in Norfolk’s District Court, Tim Bostic and Tony London will face representatives from Norfolk’s county clerks office, as well as Prince William’s county clerks office.
Some think same-sex marriage could be legal by the day the hearing is done, like what happened in Utah for a short while before a stay was issued. No matter the outcome, the judge’s ruling is sure to be appealed, and the final decision will probably be left to the Supreme Court.
But the push for marriage equality will not be easy. Already, Virginia Republicans are trying to all they can to muster support for the ban.
While no members of the state’s General Assembly were on site this morning, protestors were easy enough to spot. E.W. Jackson, a local pastor and 2013 nominee for Lt. Gov., believes he stands with the majority of Virginians.
“We voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. They don’t have the majority of people with them on it, so they’re trying to use judicial fiat to accomplish what they can’t otherwise accomplish,” Jackson said.
“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to this place, I just hope the will of the people prevails.”
On the other side, Revered Mark Byrd, Pastor of New Life Metropolitan Church, believes Jackson and his peers are basing their argument on outdated data.
“There’s a Christopher Newport poll that says 56% of citizens in the Commonwealth now oppose the ban and are in favor of lifting it. I think sentiment has greatly changed, and we’re very appreciative of not only the folks in the LGBT community, but also our straight friends and allies who are realizing… that it’s time for our commonwealth to be on the right side of justice,” Bird said.
“My husband and I were married in the District of Columbia last year, and it’s such a travesty that the moment we cross the Potomac River, we aren’t recognized as a couple. Discrimination has to stop.”
GayRVA will be inside the court room to bring details from today’s hearing to light. Stay tuned for our coverage later today.
“As an Episcopal church, we take our baptismal covenant very seriously, and in that covenant, do vow to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’”October 7, 2016
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