RICHMOND, Va. — Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield were both at work on Monday when they learned the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to accept their case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.
The women who have been together for nearly 30 years renewed their California marriage vows less than six hours later outside the John Marshall Courts Building in downtown Richmond with their 16-year-old daughter, Emily Schall-Townley, standing by their side. Attorney General Mark Herring presided over the brief ceremony as dozens of elected officials, LGBT advocates and reporters watched.
“For the first time legally in Virginia I can say I’m here with my wife Mary and my daughter Emily,” said Schall.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to accept any of the petitions to hear same-sex marriage cases from Virginia and other states came as a surprise not only to Schall and Townley, but their fellow plaintiffs and LGBT advocates across Virginia.
Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s gay nuptials ban in July 2013, obtained a marriage license shortly after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its mandate that said same-sex couples could tie the knot in the commonwealth. London told the Blade that he and Bostic have yet to confirm their wedding date.
It is not immediately clear whether Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Stanton — who filed their own lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban last summer — have received marriage licenses.
“What a great day to be a Virginian, and a great day to be an American,” said Bostic earlier on Monday. “Today, we have made history in the South, and I can’t wait for the day that all of our fellow Americans feel the same way and have the same rights that we do today.”
Media reports indicate same-sex couples in Richmond, Charlottesville and Alexandria have already exchanged vows.
India Lipton and Shirley Lesser of Chesterfield, who have been together for 11 years, married late Monday afternoon.
Lipton told the Blade at a Richmond restaurant as she held her young son Dylan that she was at home when she learned the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to accept the marriage cases. Lesser was at work.
“We started e-mailing and calling and texting and everything just to figure out what we were doing from here,” said Lipton. “Obviously we decided to get married.”
Herring told the Blade before Schall and Townley renewed their vows that he did not have “any numbers yet” as to how many gays and lesbians married in Virginia on Monday. He added it is his “understanding that clerks are performing their duties in accordance with the law and issuing licenses” to same-sex couples.
“Issuance of a license is a mandatory function of a clerk, not a discretionary one,” said Herring during a separate press conference outside the Arlington County Courthouse earlier in the day.
Rhonda Buckner and Diane Ullius of Arlington, who legally married in Canada in 2006, were among the same-sex couples and others who attended the press conference outside the Arlington County Courthouse with Herring and other officials that included state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Arlington County Board of Supervisors Chair Jay Fisette.
“Today is the biggest decision that we’ve had,” Buckner told the Blade. “It’s thrilling.”
James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, is among those who also welcomed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the commonwealth.
“After decades of work to change hearts and minds, the freedom to marry is now a reality,” said Parrish in a statement. “This is such an exciting and historic day, and we are thrilled for the thousands of couples whose relationships — and families — will now be recognized by the commonwealth of Virginia.”
Virginia voters in 2006 approved a state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Herring in January announced shortly after taking office that he would no longer defend the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban. Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam also support same-sex marriage.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has sidestepped this important issue, at least for now, and left Virginians without a definitive answer,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “Unfortunately, over one million Virginians who legally voted to adopt the marriage amendment have been disenfranchised, leaving them to wonder if their vote on any issue is safe from government reprisal. Those voters were also denied a defense by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who put his political aspirations ahead of both the Constitution of Virginia and the oath of office.”
State Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), who co-sponsored Virginia’s marriage amendment that bares his name, blasted the judges on the 4th Circuit who voted to uphold U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February decision that struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban.
“Make no mistake: Once natural marriage is abolished, marriage will soon include polygamy, or threesomes, leaving innocent children to suffer the consequences and other far reaching consequences of attempting to force legal acceptance of so-called same sex marriage,” said Marshall in a statement.
As for Schall-Townley, she was simply happy to see Virginia recognize her parents’ California marriage.
The teenager broke down as Schall and Townley renewed their vows.
“I’m just really happy today that they’re finally recognized as my mothers in all ways,” said Schall-Townley. “Now Virginia is a state for all lovers.”
The Blade will continue to provide additional updates as they become available.