Richmond, VA - The ACLU of Virginia announced today that it will be filing suit in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia's laws denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry or to obtain legal recognition of any kind for their unions. Lawyers from the ACLU of Virginia will be part of a team of lawyers from the national ACLU and Lambda Legal that will be arguing that the Virginia constitution and statutes denying the freedom to marry violate the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
"Thousands of Virginia couples are already living the deep commitment associated with marriage, without legal recognition of their relationships. They and their children deserve the legal protections that come with state-recognized marriage," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga. "There is no rational reason for denying these loving couples the freedom to marry and every reason to grant them the same recognition by civil authorities that opposite-sex couples have," she added.
"Support for the freedom to marry is part of the Virginia ACLU's DNA," Gastañaga continued. "We were founded by the lawyers who brought the Loving v. Virginia case that established the freedom to marry across racial lines, and we hope that by the time of our 50th anniversary in 2019, we will be able to say that we were part of the court case that brought the freedom to marry to all Virginia couples regardless of sexual orientation," she concluded.
The Virginia announcement dovetails with the filing of a freedom to marry suit by the ACLU in Pennsylvania today, and the expansion of an ACLU second-parent adoption case in North Carolina to include freedom to marry claims.
The ACLU's actions are part of Out For Freedom, a nation-wide initiative by the ACLU that seeks to advance the freedom to marry through action in the courts, at the ballot box and in legislatures. This effort comes on the heels of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions that struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples, and reinstated the federal trial court decision that found no rational basis to support Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage.
Nationally, the ACLU has been a leader in winning the freedom to marry since bringing its first marriage lawsuit in 1970, and it's been deeply involved in opening marriage up to same-sex couples in each of the 13 states plus the District of Columbia that now have marriage equality. The ACLU's goal is to have at least 20 states with the freedom to marry by the end of 2016.
The ACLU of Virginia similarly has been at the forefront of the struggle for the freedom to marry in the Commonwealth. The organization marks its beginnings with the landmark Loving v. Virginia (1967) case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia's prohibition on interracial marriage. The ACLU of Virginia also was an active member of The Commonwealth Coalition, the statewide organization that opposed the adoption of the Marshall-Newman amendment to the Virginia constitution - among the most sweeping denials of legal recognition for same-sex unions in the United States.
The ACLU of Virginia is working with Equality Virginia and Lambda Legal to identify Virginia couples and families who are willing to share their stories publicly as a part of the freedom to marry initiative. Stories are being collected through an online survey at http://action.aclu.org/couples.
Click here to read the Richmond Times-Dispatch's recent article about the changing climate in Virginia regarding same-sex marriage.