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Federal court rejects motion to dismiss challenge to Va. same-sex marriage ban

Monday, December 23, 2013
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HARRISONBURG, Va. — A federal court on Monday rejected a motion from the Staunton Circuit Court Clerk seeking to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this year on behalf of two couples by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner and Block, will move forward with the Staunton Circuit Court Clerk and the Registrar of Vital Records remaining as named defendants.

ACLU Virginia
Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd

ACLU Virginia
Joanne Harris and Jessi Duff

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski in Harrisonburg said in Monday’s ruling that Gov. Bob McDonnell is protected by the constitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity. However, he refused to dismiss Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Roberts as a defendant. The other defendant is Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records.

The couples — Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester — filed the lawsuit on August 1.

They claim Virginia’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and denying recognition of such unions sanctioned by other states violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.

“We’re grateful that we have the chance to move ahead to challenge this discriminatory ban on behalf of loving and committed Virginia couples,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

“We will continue to fight for families in Virginia and all across the country,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “All loving families deserve the protection and dignity that come with marriage.”

“The court recognized that ‘it is abundantly clear that plaintiffs’ alleged harm is actual, concrete, and particularized,’” noted Lambda Legal Counsel Greg Nevins.

“We couldn’t agree more, and we are happy that the court is going to force Virginia to defend its marriage exclusion on the merits,” he said.

The lawsuit is one of two challenges seeking to overturn Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. A Norfolk couple filed a lawsuit in federal court in July.

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