RICHMOND, Va. — Dozens of same-sex couples across Virginia have received marriage licenses and tied the knot after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case that challenged the state’s gay nuptials ban.
Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman 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 wed in the commonwealth. The couple plans to get married at a Norfolk church next May.
“What a great day to be a Virginian, and a great day to be an American,” said Bostic.
Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield, who joined the Bostic case in September 2013 because Virginia did not recognize their California marriage, renewed their wedding vows on Monday during a brief ceremony outside the John Marshall Courts Building in Richmond over which Attorney General Mark Herring presided.
Schall and Townley’s 16-year-old daughter, Emily Schall-Townley, stood alongside her parents 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.
India Lipton and Shirley Lesser of Chesterfield, who have been together for 11 years, married late Monday afternoon.
Lipton told the Blade during an interview at a Richmond restaurant after her wedding that she was at home with her young son Dylan when she learned the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to accept the Virginia marriage case.
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.”
Media reports indicated same-sex couples in Alexandria, Charlottesville, Richmond and other parts of the state also exchanged vows on Monday afternoon.
An official with the Arlington Circuit Court told the Blade on Wednesday that roughly 10 same-sex couples have thus far received marriage licenses. A spokesperson with the Office of Vital Records at the Virginia Department of Health did not immediately provide an exact figure as to how many gays and lesbians have either received marriage licenses or exchanged vows since Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal last summer filed a separate lawsuit against Virginia’s marriage amendment on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester who are legally married in D.C. The other lead plaintiff couple in the case — Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Stanton — joined the case after Stanton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Roberts refused to issue them a marriage license.
Harris and Duff have received a marriage license, and plan to exchange vows in the coming weeks.
Rhonda Buckner and Diane Ullius of Arlington, who legally married in Canada in 2006, were among the same-sex couples and others who attended a press conference outside the Arlington County Courthouse with Herring, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Arlington County Board of Supervisors Chair Jay Fisette and other local officials and advocates.
“Today is the biggest decision that we’ve had,” Buckner told the Blade. “It’s thrilling.”
Clerks ‘performing their duties in accordance with the law’
Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday issued an executive order that mandates all state agencies to comply with the 4th Circuit decision that struck down the state’s marriage amendment. The directive also says gay state employees whose marriages are legally recognized in the commonwealth can enroll their spouse and “eligible dependents” in the state’s health benefits program within 60 days of tying the knot.
“My administration will act quickly to continue to bring all of our policies and practices into compliance so that we can give married same-sex couples the full array of benefits they deserve,” reads the executive order.
Herring told the Blade on Monday that clerks were “performing their duties in accordance with the law” and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. These include Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, who issued a marriage license to Bostic and London.
Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg was the other defendant in the Virginia marriage case.
“Issuance of a license is a mandatory function of a clerk, not a discretionary one,” said Herring.
Virginia voters in 2006 approved the state’s marriage amendment by a 56-43 percent margin.
Herring in January announced shortly after taking office that he would no longer defend the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban. Both McAuliffe and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down the same-sex marriage ban. A three-judge panel with the 4th Circuit upheld her decision in late July.
“After decades of work to change hearts and minds, the freedom to marry is now a reality,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, on Monday. “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.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) stressed during his remarks at the first Northern Virginia Pride Festival in Centreville on Sunday that marriage rights for same-sex couples is good for the state’s economy.
“It’s economically the right thing to do,” he said.
Marshall: Same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy
Opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples on Monday criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for not accepting the Virginia marriage case. They also blasted Herring for not defending the marriage amendment.
“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,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “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 the state’s marriage amendment that bares his name, in a scathing statement criticized the judges on the 4th Circuit who voted to uphold Allen’s ruling.
“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.