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Marriage equality supporters, opponents gather outside federal appeals court

Marriage equality supporters and opponents gather outside the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.
Marriage equality supporters and opponents gather outside the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court is taking up the issue of same-sex marriage on Tuesday in a case that could determine the future of marriage equality in Virginia, while demonstrators on both sides of the issue clashed outside the Lewis Powell Courthouse in downtown Richmond.

Two same-sex couples are challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment and state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage and barring recognition of such unions performed in other states.

Advocates supporting marriage equality made a strong showing outside the courtroom early in the day.

“We’re here because we believe that the love that two men or two women have for each other is sacred,” said Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline, president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. “We hope to hear a good, strong ruling like the one out in Norfolk.”

Opponents of marriage equality, many associated with the Family Foundation, arrived by bus while others came from the Shenandoah Valley to protest.

“We’re here to show with our presence that there are two sides to the story,” said Bill Heipp of Midlothian. “We’re not here because we hate gays.”

John Sloop, chaplain for the Valley Family Forum based in Harrisonburg, said that the activists hoped that the appeals court would overturn the Norfolk judge’s ruling. “We believe the law’s being broken; the will of the people is being countermanded,” he said.

“It’s not a judge’s place to change the law,” said Barbara Herath of Charlottesville.

Meanwhile, chanting has begun, including “Homo-sex is sin!”

The lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. Bostic and London were denied a marriage license by the office of Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George E. Schaefer III, a defendant in the lawsuit. Schall and Townley were married in California, but their marriage is not recognized in Virginia.

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Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records, is a defendant and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michele McQuigg intervened as a defendant because the outcome affects clerks throughout the state.

Two other same-sex couples, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, filed a similar lawsuit in Harrisonburg and were allowed to intervene in the case before the appeals court. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is supporting the plaintiffs.

In February, U.S District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

The case before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is one of dozens making their way through courts across the country.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has declined to defend the ban, saying he too believes it violates the U.S. Constitution.

A decision is expected within a few weeks following today’s hearing, however a final outcome in the case is expected to be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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