The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner and Block filed a federal class action lawsuit today seeking the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples in Virginia, as well as an end to Virginia’s refusal to recognize marriages same-sex couples have legally entered elsewhere.
The case was filed on behalf of Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, and seeks to represent all same-sex couples in Virginia who wish to marry in the Old Dominion or who have married in other jurisdictions.
“Virginia is home for us. Our families are here, our jobs are here, and our community is a great support for us, but it makes us sad that we cannot get married where we live,” said Joanne Harris, a lifelong Virginian and the daughter of Bedford, Va., farmers. “It hits me in the gut that two hours from our house same-sex couples in Maryland and D.C. can marry. I have a serious medical condition and we’ve had to spend lots of money to try to make sure that Jessi can make decisions for me if there were ever a crisis.”
“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,” said Christy Berghoff, from Winchester. “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.”
Harris, 37, and Duff, 33, have been together since 2006 and have a 4-year-old son, Jabari. Berghoff and Kidd, both 34, have been together almost 10 years. They have an 8-month-old daughter, Lydia.
“More than half of the people of Virginia believe all Virginians should have the freedom to marry the person they love,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Every day that same-sex couples in Virginia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that they are second-class citizens and their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect.”
The lawsuit will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs allege that the commonwealth’s constitutional and statutory marriage bans send a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.
“This is one America. It’s time for the freedom to marry to come to the South,” Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “We do not want a country divided by unfairness and discrimination. Same-sex couples are in loving, committed relationships in every region of our nation and should be treated the same way, whether they live in Maine or Virginia.”
“Nationwide, more and more Americans have come to agree that committed same-sex couples should have the freedom to marry and have the same protections as any other married couple,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Today’s lawsuit in Virginia is just another step in ensuring that all families have the same rights across the country.”