The two lesbian couples challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban maintain their lawsuit is simply a matter of protecting their families.
“What I’m doing this for is to protect my wife and our daughter,” Christy Berghoff of Winchester, who married her partner of more than nine years, Victoria Kidd, told the Washington Blade. The couple also has a 9-month-old daughter.
Berghoff, an Air Force veteran who works at the U.S. Department of Justice spoke to the Blade a day after the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of her and her spouse and Staunton residents Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff in U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Virginia in Harrisonburg on Aug. 1.
Berghoff said she and Kidd paid a lawyer hundreds of dollars to make her spouse their daughter’s co-custodian so she could make some legal decisions for her in Virginia. The couple in 2007 was also unable to secure a spousal loan to refinance their home through a Veterans’ Administration program.
“I have always been a strong advocate for our family and for the idea of equal protection of our family,” Kidd told the Blade while she was at home with her daughter. “We are your everyday family, in every sense of the word.”
Harris and Duff, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29.
Like Kidd, Duff told the Blade that she and Harris have “always been advocates for our family.”
“We know that sharing our story is important to help change hearts and minds,” Duff said. “When we had the opportunity to participate, we wanted to do our part to bring the freedom to marry in Virginia.”
The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit against the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 slightly more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.
Tony London and Timothy Bostic of Norfolk, who have been together 25 years, last month filed a separate federal lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban after they unsuccessfully tried to apply for a marriage license.
Neither they, nor their lawyer, Bob Ruloff, returned the Blade’s requests for comment.
Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can marry.
The federal government also recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians who legally tie the knot, although their ability to receive Social Security and other federal benefits depends upon whether the state in which they live will recognize their unions.
“I still have a lot of questions about the protections that I’m not afforded,” Berghoff told the Blade. “I’m here at work in D.C. and I’m married and I go home I’m a single parent.”
LGBT rights advocates across Virginia applauded the lawsuit.
“It seems contrary to the rights and liberties guaranteed to us by our Constitution, that a trip across the Potomac River, an arbitrary geographical line would somehow grant or deny any citizen equal treatment under the law,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said he knows of “too many couples” that have moved out of the commonwealth because of “a lack of protections now offered to our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Maryland.”
“Virginia is at a competitive and economic disadvantage,” Ebbin said. “After all, forward thinking companies of all sizes locate where their diverse workforces will enjoy a high quality of life.”
Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, defended Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.
“The voters of Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 defining marriage in the commonwealth as being only a union of one man and one woman,” Martin said in a statement to the Blade. “It is the law in this state based on the popular will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, although spokesperson Brian Gottstein referred to a statement he released after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.
“Virginia has followed the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for more than 400 years,” Cuccinelli said in a June 26 statement on the justices’ rulings. “Virginians voted overwhelmingly to add this traditional definition to their constitution.”
Cuccinelli, who will face off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial election in November, highlighted his opposition to same-sex marriage last month during a debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs. GOP lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshein, who is running to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, also oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians.
McAuliffe in February publicly backed same-sex marriage. State Sens. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) and Mark Herring (D-Loudoun,) who are running for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively, also support the issue.
Harris told the Blade she feels there has “always been support for gay couples” in Virginia.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on July 18 noted 50 percent of Virginians support same-sex marriage. A survey that Public Policy Polling unveiled a week before found 55 percent of commonwealth residents back nuptials for gays and lesbians.
“History has shown that we evolve and opinions evolve,” Harris said. “Virginians are smart and they are fair-minded people.”
“A lot has changed in Virginia since that amendment went to the ballot box [in 2006,]” she said.