Challenge to Virginia’s Ban on Marriage by Same-sex Couples, Harris v. Rainey

Under Virginia statutes, persons of the same sex are not permitted to marry, and marriages and civil unions by same-sex couples in other states are “void and unenforceable.”  In 2006, Virginia voters passed a referendum enshrining this discrimination in the state constitution.  Joanne Harris and Jessi Duff live in Staunton with their four-year-old son, Jabari.  They would like to marry in Virginia, but are unable to do so due to Virginia’s discriminatory laws.  Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd live in Winchester with their baby daughter Lydia.  They were married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., but their marriage is not recognized in Virginia.  Both couples seek the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support available through marriage.

On August 1, 2013, we filed suit on behalf of Joanne, Jessi, Christi and Victoria against the state and the clerk of the circuit court, challenging Virginia’s refusal to allow marriage by same-sex couples or recognize such marriages performed in other states.  On August 16, 2013, we filed our motion for class certification and the governor filed a motion to dismiss him as a defendant.  The Staunton Circuit Court Clerk also asked to be dismissed as a defendant.  On December 23, 2013 the court dismissed the governor from the case, but denied the clerk’s motion to dismiss.  On January 31, 2014, our case was granted class-action status, and we now represent all of the same-sex couples in Virginia who wish to marry or have already legally married in other states and want their marriages recognized in Virginia.

In a separate case, Bostic v. Schaefer, a federal judge in Norfolk ruled on February 13, 2014, that Virginia’s laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying or having their out-of-state marriages recognized are unconstitutional.  The government defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the Norfolk judge’s ruling was stayed pending appeal.

The Fourth Circuit allowed us to intervene in the case, so that the class we represent is now a party to the Bostic appeal.  We filed our brief on April 11, 2014, and oral argument took place on May 13, 2014.  On July 28, 2014, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court decision, holding that Virgina's prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.  On August 13, 2014 the Fourth Circuit denied the defendants’ request to stay the ruling.  The U. S. Supreme Court stayed the decision on August 20, 2014.

On Monday, October 6, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the Fourth Circuit ruling is now in effect.

Court Documents (click the link to view .pdf)
Complaint - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Motion for Class Certification - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Memorandum in Support of Class Certification - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Answer of Janet M. Rainey Regarding Class Certification - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Motion to Dismiss Governor McDonnell - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss Governor McDonnell - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Memorandum in Opposition of Motion to Dismiss Governor McDonnell - U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Motion to Intervene on Appeal in Bostic v. Schaefer, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Opinion granting McDonnell’s motion to dismiss and denying Schaefer’s motion to dismiss – U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Opinion granting motion for class certification – U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg
Order granting Harris Class leave to intervene in Bostic - 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Harris Class response brief – 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Fourth Circuit Decision
Harris Class Opposition to Michèle McQuigg's request for a Stay - 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Order Denying  Stay Request - 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Response of the Harris Class Respondents to Application for Stay - U. S. Supreme Court

Additional briefs and materials related to the Harris Class Action and the Bostic case can be found on the national ACLU website.


Rebecca K. Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia; James D. Esseks, Amanda C. Goad, Joshua A. Block, National ACLU LGBT Project; Gregory R. Nevins, Tara L. Borelli, Lambda Legal

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Paul M. Smith, Luke C. Platzer, Mark P. Gaber, Jenner & Block

Date filed

August 1, 2013


U.S. District Court, Harrisonburg