Two same-sex couples who have filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban told the Washington Blade on Monday they simply want the commonwealth to legally recognize their relationships.
“We want to be married,” said Tony London of Norfolk, who has been with his partner, Timothy Bostic, for 25 years. “It’s important to us as Virginians that we get married in the state that we love and this is a state we’ve called home for so long.”
Bostic and London last July filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman after the Norfolk Circuit Court denied their application for a marriage license. Carol Schall and Mary Townley, a Chesterfield couple who has been together for 30 years, joined the case in September.
Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk will hold oral arguments in the lawsuit on Tuesday. A snowstorm postponed the hearing that had been scheduled to take place on Jan. 30.
“We want to be married for the happy times, but we need to be married for the sad times,” Schall told the Blade. “When one of us is sick or when one of us needs surgery or when health care is an issue, we need to be there for each other. And Virginia should not be in the business of standing in the way of people wanting to care for each other and take responsibility for each other.”
Schall and Townley, who have been together for 30 years, married in California in 2008.
The women’s 16-year-old daughter Emily joined them and Bostic and London at a D.C. press conference last September where the American Foundation of Equal Rights announced Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, had joined their case.
“’You know mom, I think it’s cool what you guys are doing,’” said Schall as she recalled the conversation she and Townley had with their daughter as they drove home from the nation’s capital after the press conference. “’I would be there no matter what.’”
Bostic, who is an assistant English professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, told the Blade his neighbors in the neighborhood in which he and London have lived for 17 years have been “extremely supportive” of them. Schall, who is an assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in Richmond, said her 80-year-old father told her earlier on Monday to “go get em’ kid; don’t let anybody stand in your way.”
“We’re just a family – we go out to Martin’s to shop and Target and all of that,” Townley, who works at Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Richmond, told the Blade as she discussed how her colleagues and others with strong religious beliefs have supported her and Schall’s decision to challenge Virginia’s marriage amendment. “It’s an amazing transformation for them. It’s a really nice feeling for them and for us.”
Virginia voters in 2006 approved the marriage amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.
Schall was a canvasser for Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, when state lawmakers were debating whether to put the issue on the ballot.
“As the election results came in, [I was] just feeling really overwhelmingly sad that my friends and neighbors had voted against me,” she said.
Bostic told the Blade he and London also “fought very hard against” the marriage amendment.
“It really did feel like a repudiation by our friends and neighbors,” said Bostic, noting a majority of Norfolk voters did not support the gay nuptials ban. “Why should I have to ask for this right? Why is this fight even here? I’m a citizen.”
Attorney General Mark Herring on Jan. 23 announced he would not defend the marriage ban.
The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that state Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Governor Terry McAuliffe last week denied a request from Marshall, Gilbert and 28 other lawmakers to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment.
A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.
“Having the attorney general on our side just greatly amplifies our efforts to bring fairness and full rights to gay and lesbian couples all across the commonwealth,” London, a real estate agent and U.S. Navy veteran, told the Blade. “We have a very strong case and look forward to succeeding and I believe we will.”
Schall said she and Townley “are prepared” to hear attorneys who are representing the defendants in their case – Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg and Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer – discuss their relationship “maybe in not so much complimentary ways.” Their daughter is also expected to attend the oral arguments with a close family friend.
“At the end of the day, we are just so regular and typical,” Schall told the Blade. “People who fuss about this just really don’t understand this is just about being in love.”
Bostic had a similar view.
“Tony is my soul mate,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s anybody out there–gay or straight–that would have a difficult time understanding our desire to marry our soul mates.”