The American Federation of Equal Rights on Sunday announced the lawyers who argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court will join a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturns Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.
The Washington Post first reported attorneys representing Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond asked Ted Olson and David Boies to join the case. The plaintiffs joined one of their lawyers, Tom Shuttleworth, AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin at a press conference that took place at the National Press Club in downtown D.C. on Monday
“I’m a Virginian,” Olson said, referring to the fact that Thomas Jefferson and many of the country’s other founding fathers are from the commonwealth. “Of all places in the United States, Virginia should recognize the rights of equality. Men and women in that state have the same basic fundamental underlying freedoms that everyone in America has.”
“This case is about liberty,” Boies added. “It’s about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the inalienable right of every individual to marry the person who they love.”
Bostic and London, who have been together for 24 years, in July filed a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s gay nuptials ban after the Norfolk Circuit Court denied them a marriage license. Towning and Schall, who have been together for 30 years and married in California in 2008, joined the Norfolk couple’s case earlier this month when their lawyers filed an amended lawsuit.
“We aren’t asking for special privileges or treatment,” Towning said at the National Press Club press conference as she stood alongside Schall and their 15-year-old daughter Emily. “We just want to be the same as everyone else to be married.”
Bostic told reporters his family’s Virginia roots date back to before the Declaration of Independence.
“I also stand before you as an individual who has and continues to be discriminated against by my home state because of who I am and who I love,” he said.
Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
Virginia voters in 2006 approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but Olson and Boies’ decision to join this case comes as the issue of nuptials for gays and lesbians continues to gain traction across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down Prop 8 and a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last month filed a class action federal lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban on behalf of two lesbian couples from Richmond and Staunton who had been denied marriage licenses. The ACLU in July formally challenged Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 10 same-sex couples and a lesbian widow.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday said he’d appeal a judge’s ruling that said the state must allow gays and lesbians to marry. An Illinois judge on the same day said two lawsuits that challenge the state’s same-sex marriage ban can proceed.
Gay couples in New Mexico and Ohio have also filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights.
Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia on Monday filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg that seeks an expedited judgment in their case that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.
“Virginians denied the freedom to marry have no meaningful legislative path to gain the same protections for their families as other loving committed couples,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said. “That’s why we’ve had to ask the federal court to overturn Virginia’s sweeping bans on recognizing same-sex relationships. We shouldn’t have to go to federal court to get Virginia to do what’s right.”
Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is among those who applauded Olson and Boies’ decision to join the case.
“It is not a question of whether marriage equality will come to Virginia; it is a question of when,” he said in a statement in which he also praised Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia for challenging the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. “This is the time for Virginia to wake up from history–as Jefferson said, ‘laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.'”
“This team brings years of experience advocating for the rights of gay and lesbian couples and will only help to ensure that all Virginians will soon be able to enjoy the freedom to marry,” James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, added. “As we continue our work to change hearts and minds throughout the state, we will closely monitor both this lawsuit and the one filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.”
Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, defended the gay nuptials prohibition.
“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. “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 did not immediately return the Washington Blade’s request for comment. He did reaffirm his opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians as he squared off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe during the latest gubernatorial debate that took place in McLean on September 25.
“I understand and respect the fact that this is a sensitive issue to a lot of Virginians,” Cuccinelli said. “But I’m one of those who do believe that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.”
Both Olson and Umhoefer noted during the AFER press conference that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down the commonwealth’s interracial marriage ban in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.
“We’re hoping that the case in Virginia is the beginning of the end,” Boies said, referring to the movement for marriage rights for same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court found Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. “The citizens of Virginia, no less than the citizens of California are entitle to marry the person they love.”
Boies told the Blade he and Olson decided to join the case Bostic and London and Schall and Townley filed because it was the first one in the commonwealth to “establish marriage equality.” Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal said after the AFER press conference that Boies and Olson’s involvement in legal efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in Virginia “can only be a good thing.”
“We’re happy to collaborate and work with anyone who shares this goal,” Nevins said.
Boies also told the Blade he would like to see President Obama intervene in the Virginia marriage case of which he and Olson are now a part as the Justice Department did in the Prop 8 lawsuit.