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Virginia prepares for possibility of same-sex marriage

Virginia prepares for possibility of same-sex marriage
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.

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia officials are preparing for the possibility that same-sex couples will be able to wed in the state Thursday by drafting a revised marriage license form for courthouse clerks to use as soon as they open their doors.

The state’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided not to delay its ruling while it is appealed. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, same-sex marriages will be legal beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The revised license forms “would reflect the constitutional right of same-sex couples to legally marry in Virginia by asking for the name and gender of each spouse, whereas before, the form required a bride and groom because that was all the Commonwealth could legally recognize,” Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, said in an email to The Associated Press.

The request for a delay will either be considered by Chief Justice John Roberts or the full court. The court has twice granted delays in related cases.

While they wait on a decision, some clerks in urban areas are already preparing for an influx of marriage license applicants.

In northern Virginia, Arlington’s circuit court has prepared an overflow room.

In Richmond, deputy clerks will be brought in to assist that city’s marriage-license desk in anticipation of a large crowd.

Earlier this year, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that between 5,487 and 7,122 same-sex Virginia couples would get married within three years of a change in law. That’s based on 2010 Census figures showing Virginia had 14,243 same-sex couples and past experiences with Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized there.

To help as many same-sex couples get married as quickly as possible, a network of religious clergy plans on fanning out to courthouses across the state to begin performing wedding ceremonies on the spot.

“I know many couples who have been together, in some cases decades, who are just waiting for this day,” said the Rev. Jim Whalen, of New Life Metropolitan Community Church in Norfolk.

“We expect that there’s going to be large numbers initially, and I think it’ll be very advantageous to have enough people there to do this in a timely fashion instead of people having to wait hours. … They’ve waited long enough.”

Whalen is the organizer in the Hampton Roads region for People of Faith for Equality, which has commitments from 49 clergy members from various faiths to be stationed at different courthouses around the state. Another 17 clergy members have offered to be on call if they’re needed, including the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.

Peebles said most same-sex couples in her congregation have already gotten married in Maryland or Washington, D.C., where she has also performed wedding ceremonies. She said her 900-member congregation plans to have a celebration Wednesday night if a stay is not issued.

“It’s been a long journey,” she said. “We’re letting everybody know we’re going to be ready to join in Virginia moving forward, letting go of its sad history and moving forward.”

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