April 1, 2014 at 11:22 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Federal judge stays second Va. marriage lawsuit

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)

A federal judge on Monday put on hold a lawsuit filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski noted in his five-page ruling the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., last month allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who brought the case on behalf of Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester – to intervene in a separate same-sex marriage lawsuit filed last year by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield.

Urbanski in January certified the Harris case as a class action.

“Plaintiffs indicated that their main goal was to have their day in court and to be heard on the important issues raised in this case on the same schedule as the Bostic case,” wrote Urbanski, referring to a status conference in the Harris case that took place on Feb. 19. “As a result of the 4th Circuit’s order on March 10, 2014, allowing plaintiffs to intervene in the Bostic appeal, plaintiffs have the opportunity. Because of this seismic procedural development, the constitutional issue in this case is now in the hands of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

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 Wright’s ruling to the 4th Circuit. The federal appeals court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 12.

“Redefining marriage harms marriage’s ability to serve those interests by serving marriage’s inherent connection to procreation and communicating that the primary end of marriage laws is to affirm adult desires rather than serve children’s needs, and suppressing the importance of both mothers and fathers to children’s development,” wrote Byron J. Babione of the Alliance Defending Freedom in a brief he filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28.

Attorney General Mark Herring earlier this year announced he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“The commonwealth of Virginia will file its response brief in the Bostic appeal by April 11, as will the Bostic plaintiffs and the Harris plaintiffs,” said Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly late on Monday.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and other states have filed same-sex marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A poll that Quinnipiac University released on Monday shows 50 percent of Virginia voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples, compared to 42 percent who oppose the issue. The survey further noted 69 percent of Democrats and only 23 percent of Republicans support gay nuptials.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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