The two groups – which filed their own federal lawsuit against the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment that bans nuptials for same-sex couples last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – submitted a brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to join a separate lawsuit brought by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield last year.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s Feb. 13 ruling in the Bostic case was appealed to the federal appellate court earlier this week.
“From the beginning, both of these cases have proceeded on parallel tracks, and for the good of all couples in the state, we hope it will remain that way,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “This motion just ensures that all affected couples have their day in court.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Michael F. Urbanski late last month certified the Lambda Legal and ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton as a class action. Urbanski earlier this month said he would not hold oral arguments in the case – and he is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks.
“Marriage is a fundamental right of all Virginians,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “That’s why it’s important that all couples in both cases be represented in the appeals court at the same time.”
Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court last year, are among the lawyers representing Bostic and London and Schall and Townley.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he will not defend the commonwealth’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.
“The Bostic case is extremely well positioned heading into the Fourth Circuit,” American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade in a statement. “The district court issued an order that, if it is affirmed, will ensure that all gay and lesbian Virginians who wish to marry, or to have their marriage recognized, can do so.”
Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly, declined to specifically comment on the Lambda Legal and ACLU request to join the Bostic case.
“Attorney General Herring’s priority remains ensuring that higher courts have an opportunity to hear this case as quickly as possible to settle the fundamental issues it presents,” said Kelly.
Matthew D. McGill, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Bostic case, questioned why the two groups petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to join the Bostic case.
“The addition of new parties to the case at this late stage risks delaying the proceedings, and there is not a moment to lose when gay and lesbian couples and families across Virginia – and other states in the Fourth Circuit – are experiencing real harm,” said McGill. “We hope the Harris plaintiffs and their lawyers will continue to support our shared goal of marriage equality by filing an amicus brief alongside us.”
A source involved in the legal process who asked to remain anonymous told the Blade 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.
“If intervention were granted, it could adversely slow down the current appeals process – and time is critical when it comes to attaining marriage equality for all Virginians,” said the source. “There is not a day to lose. Groups like the ACLU can be supportive by simply filing amicus briefs.”
“We are eager for the Fourth Circuit to move ahead swiftly in the Bostic case,” added Umhoefer. “Any delay in the appeals process means that gay and lesbian couples and their families will continue to suffer prolonged harm under unjust laws. We welcome the ACLU to participate as amicus curiae in the case.”
James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project, told the Blade the plaintiffs in the Harris case and their lawyers have been “appointed as representatives of a class of 14,000 same-sex couples in Virginia.” He added the motion to intervene in the Bostic lawsuit are to “do right” by the thousands of gays and lesbians in Virginia who are either married in another jurisdiction or want to exchange vows in the commonwealth.
“This is not about an either or thing,” Esseks told the Blade, noting the Bostic case is not a class action. “This is about an and thing.”
Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal echoed Esseks.
“There still are a lot of moving parts in this,” Nevins told the Blade. “We’ll eventually just do what we can to do the best on this particular case. No one knows where the chips are going to fall.”