Lambda Legal and ACLU File Federal Class Action Seeking to End Virginia’s Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

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August 1, 2013
Gregory R. Nevins

"This is one America. It’s time for the freedom to marry to come to the South. 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."

(Harrisonburg, August 1, 2013) - Today Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia are filing a federal class action lawsuit 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 here 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, Virginia 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.”

The plaintiffs in the case: Joanne Harris, 37, and Jessica Duff, 33, together since 2006, are from Staunton and have a four-year-old son, Jabari. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, both 34, are from Winchester and have been together almost ten years. They have an eight-month-old daughter, Lydia.

“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."

“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.”

Lambda Legal, the ACLU, ACLU of Virginia, and Jenner and Block are filing the lawsuit together as co-counsel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. In the complaint being filed today, the plaintiffs allege that through the Commonwealth’s constitutional and statutory marriage bans and through Defendants’ enforcement of them, the Commonwealth and Defendants send a purposeful message that they view lesbians, gay men, and their children 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.

“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.”

Virginia couples who have suffered from discrimination and are interested in sharing how marriage discrimination harms their families as part of a campaign for the freedom to marry are encouraged to join the hundreds of other Virginia couples who have filled out a survey at http://action.aclu.org/couples.

Read the complaint: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/harris_va_20130801_complaint-for-declaratory-and-injunctive-relief

Rebecca Glenberg is handling the case for the ACLU of Virginia. Amanda Goad, Josh Block, and James Esseks are handling the case for the LGBT Project of the national ACLU.  Greg Nevins and Tara Borelli are handling the case for Lambda Legal.  Paul Smith, Luke Platzer, and Mark Gaber of Jenner and Block are cooperating attorneys to Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Virginia in the case.

The case is Harris et al. v. McDonnell et al.http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/harris-v-mcdonnell

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Contact Info

Lambda Legal Contact: Jonathan Adams Cell: 646-752-3251; Email:  jadams@lambdalegal.org

ACLU Contact: Robyn Shepherd, 212-519-7829 or 549-2666; Email: rshepherd@aclu.org

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