RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Saturday said the same-sex couples who are challenging the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman are not asking for “special treatment.”
“They’re not asking for special privileges,” he said during the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner at the Greater Richmond Convention Center that Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post emceed and during which Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black” delivered the keynote address. “They’re just asking to be treated fairly and equally.”
Herring – who announced in January shortly after taking office that he would not defend the marriage amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006 – said one of the “great missions of attorney general is the pursuit of justice.” He told the more than 1,000 people who attended the Equality Virginia dinner he thought about what he described as the importance of the commonwealth’s position on the issue before U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year.
“We as Virginians have so much to be proud of in our long history, but the truth is there have been times when courageous Virginians were leading the way on civil rights and a lot of elected officials, including the attorney general were standing in the way,” said Herring, referring to former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples. “I was determined not to let the injustice of Virginia’s position in those past cases happen this time. This time the commonwealth, speaking through it’s attorney general, would stand up to protect for those individuals and all its people fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.”
Allen on Feb. 13 ruled Virginia’s marriage ban is unconstitutional.
“She agreed with our arguments,” said Herring.
Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay legal group, appealed Allen’s ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appellate court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 12.
“We still have a long way to go and a lot of hard work lies ahead of us.” said Herring. “Let’s keep working together to make sure that Virginia’s on the right side of the law and let’s keep working together to make sure Virginia’s on the right side of history.”
Bostic, London, Schall, Townley, and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester – who are also challenging the commonwealth’s marriage amendment in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed last August – received a standing ovation at the Equality Virginia dinner alongside Herring.
“We’re just ready to get that ruling so that our marriage is going to be recognized,” Kidd, who married Berghoff in D.C. in 2011, told the Washington Blade before the dinner as she discussed next month’s oral arguments before the 4th Circuit. “We’re so excited to celebrated.”
“We want to just have equality,” added Duff.