What the marriage ruling means for Virginians

Friday was an especially sweet Valentine’s Day! Just a few hours before, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. But, while LGBT and allied Virginians are celebrating this major step toward equality, this basic right will likely not be realized until the U.S Supreme Court decides one of the many marriage equality cases working its way toward it or the General Assembly and Virginia voters overturn Virginia’s constitutional ban on gay and lesbian marriage. This leaves many Virginians asking – what comes now?

cindy and robertThe ruling

Wright Allen’s conclusion is clear – Any Virginia law that bars same-sex marriage or prohibits Virginia’s recognition of lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions is unconstitutional. As she stated, these laws deny the plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection of the laws guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In her ruling, Wright Allen recognized marriage as a fundamental right.  In her words, “gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate, and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through…choices...that must be free from unwarranted government interference.” She concluded that lesbian and gay couples are not seeking a new right, but are instead simply asking for the ability to exercise a right that is already enjoyed by the majority of Virginians. One of the arguments brought by the defense was that of tradition. Drawing on Virginia’s history of anti-marriage laws, Wright Allen said although tradition is revered in the commonwealth, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more that it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, which over 40 years ago the US Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional. She also rejected the absurd argument that maintaining the marriage ban would protect Virginia’s children.She recognized that the welfare of our children is of course a legitimate state interest, but opined that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest and instead needlessly stigmatizes and humiliates children who are being raised by lesbian and gay couples.

What now?

Because the decision was stayed, lesbian and gay couples still are not able to get married here in Virginia – yet. If the case is appealed (which is expected), it will go to the 4th Circuit Court, and ultimately could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. This legal process could take a year or more. Now is the time to stay as strong as we can in our advocacy and outreach. Instead of idly waiting for the legal process to unfold, Equality Virginia will educate the Virginia public about why marriage equality matters – we will continue to change hearts and minds throughout the commonwealth. We will also continue to ask legislators to vote to put the repeal of Virginia’s marriage ban in front of the voters. There are steps we can take now to protect Virginia’s families today, including passing legislation to allow second-parent adoption. Stand with us – invest in equality today. While we still have a fight ahead, there is no denying that this ruling is a giant step toward true equality in Virginia, and beyond. This ruling put Virginia in the position of leading the southern states toward a more inclusive “we the people.” We take that position seriously, and will not stop fighting for marriage equality until the day comes that lesbian and gay couples across the commonwealth are holding their Virginia marriage license in their hands. Together we will make sure that Virginia stands on the right side of history. Be the first to get news about marriage equality and more! Sign up here to get our action alerts and newsletter.