Connect with us

News

Va. lesbian couples file lawsuit seeking marriage rights

ACLU, Lambda Legal seek to overturn 2006 constitutional ban

Published

on

Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are challenging Virginia’s gay nuptials ban and the commonwealth’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising an 8-month-old daughter, married in D.C. in August 2011.

“I’m an Air Force veteran, and if Virginia would just respect our marriage from D.C., it would ensure that my spouse and family could access all the benefits I’ve earned,” Berghoff, who works for the U.S. Justice Department. “I’ve been with Victoria for almost a decade now; and it hurts to have our home state say we are not married when it recognizes marriages entered into by different-sex couples who may have only recently met.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit against the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 slightly more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

A gay couple from Norfolk last month filed a separate federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can marry. The federal government also recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians who legally tied the knot, although their ability to receive Social Security and other federal benefits depends upon whether the state in which they live will recognize their unions.

“It seems contrary to the rights and liberties guaranteed to us by our Constitution, that a trip across the Potomac River, an arbitrary geographical line would somehow grant or deny any citizen equal treatment under the law,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on July 18 noted 50 percent of Virginians support same-sex marriage. A survey that Public Policy Polling unveiled a week before found 55 percent of commonwealth residents back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said in a statement he knows of “too many couples” who have moved out of the commonwealth because of “a lack of protections now offered to our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Maryland.”

“With a total of 13 states and D.C. offering equality to couples, Virginia is at a competitive and economic disadvantage,” Ebbin said. “After all, forward thinking companies of all sizes locate where their diverse workforces will enjoy a high quality of life.”

Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Virginia in Harrisonburg, defended Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“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’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, although spokesperson Brian Gottstein referred to a statement he released after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.

“Virginia has followed the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for more than 400 years,” Cuccinelli said in a June 26 statement on the justices’ rulings. “Virginians voted overwhelmingly to add this traditional definition to their constitution.”

Cuccinelli, who will face off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in the commonwealth’s gubernatorial election, highlighted his opposition to same-sex marriage last month during a debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs. GOP lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshein, who is running to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, also oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians.

McAuliffe in February publicly backed same-sex marriage. State Sens. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) and Mark Herring (D-Loudoun,) who are running for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively, also support the issue.

Joanne Harris, Jessica Duff, Staunton, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

Published

on

(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building

Published

on

Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats clarifies ‘no endorsement’ of Pinto

Says it postponed action on Ward 2 D.C. race until November

Published

on

D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The president of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group, expressed regret that he did not clarify in an announcement earlier this week that the organization chose to postpone deciding whether to endorse D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) in the city’s June 4 primary election because she is running unopposed in the primary.

“I misspoke, and I take responsibility for that,” Michael Haresign, the group’s president, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. Haresign said that he regrets that he did not inform the Blade in a May 21 interview at a post endorsement party the group held that Pinto’s name was not on the endorsement ballot the group sent to its members earlier this month to vote on the endorsements.

Based on a press release issued by the group on May 21, the Blade reported that Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it had endorsed just four candidates appearing on D.C.’s June 4 primary ballot – President Joe Biden, D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis Geroge (D-Ward 4), and D.C.’s U.S. Shadow Representative Oye Owolewa (D).

Among the candidates not endorsed that surprised some in the LGBTQ community were Pinto and D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D),  who, like Pinto, is a strong LGBTQ community supporter. In the group’s May 21 press release it did not disclose that Pinto’s name was not on the group’s endorsement ballot.

Elizabeth Mitchell, Capital Stonewall’s Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs, and Austin Naughton, a member of the group’s endorsement committee from Ward 2, contacted the Blade by email on May 23 to point out that the group decided at the committee’s recommendation to postpone a decision on whether to endorse Pinto, and the membership did not vote on a Pinto endorsement.

 “We made a careful and considerate decision as an election committee to not impose upon CM Pinto’s busy schedule at this time as there was no challenger for the primary,” Mitchell told the Blade in an email. “We assured CM Pinto and her campaign that we would revisit the subject of endorsement after the primary as it’s possible a challenger may emerge at that time,” said Mitchell, who added that the group was unaware of anyone emerging to challenge Pinto in the November election.

“As such, we did not include her on our endorsement ballot,” Mitchell said. Mitchell was also referring to the decision not to invite Pinto to one of the group’s candidate forums related to the June 4 primary, even though Pinto made it clear she would be happy to participate in a forum.  

No candidates have emerged in the June 4 primary to challenge Pinto either as Democrats or as members of the city’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. An independent candidate could emerge to challenge Pinto in the November general election, and voters are eligible to vote for a write-in candidate in both the primary and general election.

Mitchell said Norton’s office did not respond to an invitation to participate in the Capital Stonewall Democrats first of two candidate forums and told the group a conflict in her schedule prevented Norton from attending the group’s second candidates forum.

“Her office sent us a very professional letter explaining that she had a prior engagement the evening of our forum and would be unable to attend,” Mitchell said. “We explained that to our members,” according to Mitchell, who added, “She was on our ballot and failed to receive enough votes to win an endorsement.”

 Under the group’s endorsement policy, candidates must receive at least 60 percent of the vote from the members to receive an endorsement. Under that policy, Haresign said the group also did not make an endorsement for the Ward 7 and Ward 8 D.C. Council races or in the race for the D.C. U.S. Shadow Senator seat because no candidate received a 60 percent vote threshold.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular