CHESTERFIELD, Va.– The forsythia shrubs behind Emily Schall-Townley’s suburban Richmond home were in full bloom on Saturday morning as she and her friend, Jordan Cramer, took pictures of each other around an abandoned house. The two teenagers joked, laughed and even teased each other as they took pictures of each other.
“You’re weirdly normal,” Cramer said to her friend.
Schall-Townley repeatedly stressed to the Washington Blade during a series of exclusive interviews at her home on April 4 and 5 that she is simply a normal teenager in spite of her parents’ decision to challenge Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“I’m just a normal, run-of-the-mill person,” she said while siting on a couch in the living room as her parents – Mary Townley and Carol Schall – and Nicholas Graham of the American Foundation for Equal Rights listened.
Schall-Townley, who is a sophomore at Monacan High School in North Chesterfield, has played basketball since she was in third grade. The 16-year-old who obtained her learner’s permit a few months ago also enjoys reading, watching television and spending time with her friends.
“She’s an honor student,” noted Schall proudly after Schall-Townley and another friend, Haley Eiser, left to go to watch “Captain America” at a local movie theater. “Next year she’s taking four or five AP classes.”
Schall-Townley excitedly noted to the Blade while sitting in her living room that she has a “celebrity crush” on Darren Criss from “Glee.” She said she had a dream the night before that Graham received a phone call from Criss on his cell phone while he was working in her family’s home – and she was able to talk with him.
“I love him so much,” said Schall-Townley.
She also noted she would like to meet Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” who is a founding AFER board member.
“I think the chances are high for that one,” said Schall-Townley as her parents began to laugh. “I know who Dustin Lance Black is. He’s dating Tom Daley and Tom Daley is beautiful.”
‘This is big’
Schall-Townley’s first experience in the spotlight came last September when her parents and Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk – who two months earlier filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s marriage amendment – attended a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. where AFER announced former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies had joined the case.
Schall and Townley – who have been together for nearly 30 years and married in California in October 2008 – told their daughter a few weeks earlier that they were going to challenge the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. Schall-Townley told the Blade the D.C. press conference was the first time she realized “OK, so this is big.”
“I felt important,” she said. “It’s not like I got asked the questions or anything like that, but it was like, ‘Wow, I’m on TV with my parents.’ I was nervous.”
Schall-Townley was with her parents inside a federal courtroom in Norfolk on Feb. 4 when U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen heard oral arguments in the case.
Schall and Townley broke down their lawyers’ arguments against the marriage amendment in an e-mail they sent to Schall-Townley before the hearing. They also wrote notes to each other during the oral arguments.
Schall-Townley said she felt “bad” for the lawyers for the defendants – Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg – who referred to “accidental procreation” during the proceeding. Schall-Townley also recalled Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom arguing that same-sex marriage is bad for children.
“That was hard to hear,” she said.
Ruling interrupts Olympic men’s figure skating finals
Schall-Townley was at home watching the men’s Olympic figure skating finals on Feb. 13 when her parents learned Allen had found Virginia’s marriage amendment unconstitutional. It snowed earlier in the day, and Schall shoveled the driveway in anticipation that she and her family would have to drive to Norfolk if the judge issued her decision.
“I was really excited to watch the men’s figure skating final and then we got the call,” she said. “All the attention was demanded there and so we never got to watch it.”
Schall-Townley’s friend Dominque joined her, her parents, Bostic and London and their lawyers at a Norfolk press conference the next morning. She also attended the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond on April 4 with Schall and Townley.
“At the hearing I had talked to reporters with a TV camera, so it was at least a little bit less daunting,” said Schall-Townley, referring to the reporter from a Norfolk television station with whom she spoke after Allen issued her ruling. “It wasn’t my first time doing it.”
Schall, to whom Schall-Townley refers as “mama,” then proceeded to open up an ottoman in the living room that contained clips about the case. She refers to Townley, who is her birth mother, as “mommy.”
Schall-Townley teased Schall about the six copies of a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch feature on her and her family that Schall kept in a shopping bag.
“It’s getting harder and harder to keep up,” said Schall.
Schall-Townley told the Blade the strangest question she has received thus far came from a radio host who asked her about whether she likes boys.
“I just felt really awkward answering it,” she said. “They didn’t use it, but I was still like I don’t know. It’s because people assume that maybe if you have two lesbian parents they have to have a lesbian child. That’s not true if you have two straight parents and then you have a gay kid.”
Schall-Townley said her classmates, friends and their parents have been supportive of her and her parents as the case works its way through the courts. She noted she thought the same-sex marriage opponents who gathered outside the Norfolk courthouse on Feb. 4 were “funny.”
“I just kind of laughed it off,” said Schall-Townley. “It didn’t bother me.”
“We’re never going to win them over,” added Schall. “If somebody has the strength and puts the effort into making a sign to stand out in front of a courthouse, they’re not the people that we want to win over. We want to win over the people who are sitting in their living rooms and looking at us and saying, ‘well they look normal, maybe it’s OK.’ It’s the middle we want to move, not the end. And those are the wing nuts.”
Friend: Parents ‘deserve the right’ to marry
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on May 13.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Counsel and other anti-LGBT groups have filed briefs with the federal appeals court that argue marriage between a man and a woman is necessary for procreation.
“They actually brushed over our story as if it didn’t exist,” said Townley. “They never mentioned Emily, I mean purposely I think. They don’t mention there have been actual harms that have happened to us.”
Staff at a Richmond hospital admitted Townley when she had pregnancy-related complications, but they refused to allow Schall to see her for several hours. Schall has joint and legal custody of her daughter, but Virginia law does not allow second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples.
A clerk at a local post office in 2012 told Schall she is “nobody, you don’t matter” when she and Townley tried to renew Townley-Schall’s passport.
“They don’t even mention that we have a daughter because it’s so counter to their entire argument,” said Schall, referring to the Alliance Defending Freedom and other groups that continue to defend Virginia’s marriage amendment. “It’s their game.”
Schall-Townley’s friends repeatedly told the Blade they “love” her parents.
“It’s great what they’re doing,” said Eiser, discussing how she feels her friend has handled the attention around the case. “Emily’s handled it perfectly.”
“They deserve the right to be married,” added Cramer. “Somebody’s always going to find somebody to be prejudiced against. It’s ridiculous. They’re still human beings; they have the right to do that and they’re not different just because they like the same sex.”
Schall-Townley and her parents feel hopeful ahead of next month’s oral arguments in the 4th Circuit. She described the prospect of the lawsuit reaching the U.S. Supreme Court as “so cool.”
“Any of the cases could be the one that was making [same-sex marriage] for the entire nation legal,” said Schall-Townley. “The fact we could be the case would be cool.”