March 10, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Court allows LGBT groups to join Va. marriage lawsuit

Carol Schall, Mary Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia

Carol Schall (left) with Mary Townley and their daughter Emily. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A federal appeals court on Monday said two LGBT rights groups can join a lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., issued its motion in response to Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union’s petition to join a federal lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples from Norfolk and Chesterfield.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified a same-sex marriage lawsuit that Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley as a class action. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen on Feb. 13 struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in the case that Tim Bostic and Tony London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley brought last year.

The court also said oral arguments in the case are tentatively scheduled to begin on May 12.

“We’re thrilled that all of Virginia’s same-sex couples will be before the court of appeals together, arguing for the freedom to marry and bringing their many compelling stories to the common cause,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the Bostic case alongside former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, welcomed the court’s decision to expedite oral arguments.

The briefing schedule begins on March 28.

“AFER is thrilled that the Fourth Circuit has granted its request to expedite the hearing schedule in our plaintiffs’ marriage equality case,” said Umhoefer. “The Fourth Circuit clearly recognizes the importance of the Bostic case to thousands of gay and lesbian Virginians and their families, and AFER looks forward to presenting our arguments before the court in May. We welcome the Harris case as interveners in support of our plaintiffs’ case.”

AFER and co-counsel in the Bostic case initially questioned why Lambda Legal and the ACLU petitioned the court to join the lawsuit.

A source involved in the case who asked to remain anonymous told the Washington Blade after the two groups filed their motion that there are “grave and serious consequences for an unwarranted ACLU intervention.” These could include the possibility that other groups from West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina that fall under the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction could seek to join the case if allowed.

Attorney General Mark Herring in January announced he would not defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2006.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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