By Aisha Huertas Michel, Associate Director of Public Policy and Communications
It’s been a great week. Almost 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional; we now have true marriage equality in the Commonwealth!
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear Virginia’s freedom to marry case, which means that the appeals court decision in the Fourth Circuit is now the law in Virginia and precedent for other cases pending in South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia. And, thanks to quick action by the appeals court, its decision went into effect at 1pm Monday (just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision), leading many of Virginia’s same sex couples to rush to their local courthouse to enjoy a right that should never have been denied. It’s an amazing victory for the more than 14,000 loving, committed same-sex couples in Virginia we represented in this litigation. It was a perfect day!
Standing at Richmond’s Courthouse, I watched the celebration in awe. Couples stood in line patiently waiting their turn to see the clerk and get their marriage license. We all cheered with joy and pride as we watched the first marriage ceremony take place. Through it all, I tried to engrave the moment in my mind because I knew we were all, at that very moment, witnessing history – marriage equality in the Commonwealth. I knew also that the momentum that led us there was one that could not be stopped.
“Cannot be stopped?” You may wonder why I use that phrase if marriage equality is already here. The reality, however, is that, while marriage equality is a tremendous victory, Virginia’s LGBT community still does not enjoy true equality in the Commonwealth.
Yes, as of Monday, October 6, 2014, same-sex couples in the Commonwealth can now be married and have their marriages from other states recognized. This means that all married couples in the Commonwealth now enjoy the same government benefits of marriage, regardless of sexual orientation or where the marriage took place, including with regard to adoption, taxes, medical and visitation, and inheritance. In short, you can finally, legally, be the family you have been all along.
But, while we now have marriage equality, Virginia still lacks laws to protect an employee from being fired because they put a picture of their same-sex spouse on their desk. That’s right – private businesses in Virginia are still free to fire an employee just because they are LGBT. And, while discrimination in public employment against LGBT workers is unconstitutional, there is no state statute that protects government workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   There are also no laws against discrimination in housing or public accommodations.
In addition, we have already seen the next phase of anti-LGBT advocacy come to the Commonwealth – the use of religion to discriminate. That’s right, just like some restaurant owners who tried to get around the 1964 Civil Rights Act by claiming that serving African Americans violated their belief that God wanted the races to be separate, we’re now seeing laws in Virginia that permit adoption agencies and genetic counselors to deny services to LGBT Virginian’s based on religious beliefs.  This is our next challenge, and just like we did with marriage, we will prevail! It’s time to remind our lawmakers and neighbors that religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to practice our religion freely without government interference, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them.
Let’s celebrate this tremendous victory! And, let’s use the energy and joy we all gained from it to power us along the journey to our ultimate goal – full equality for all Virginians. If you have questions about our marriage litigation, review our Frequently Asked Questions.
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