Virginia same-sex marriage case granted class-action status

Posted at 12:53 AM, Feb 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-01 00:53:30-05

HARRISONBURG, Va.– A lawsuit challenging that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, has now been certified in Virginia as a class action case.

This extends the scope of those represented in the lawsuit to all same-sex couples in the state who cannot legally marry or whose legal marriages performed elsewhere are not recognized by the Commonwealth.

The case was initially filed on behalf of two couples by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner and Block.

This Harrisonburg lawsuit is one of two currently challenging the state prohibition of same-sex marriage that has been in the state’s Constitution since 2006. 

Attorney General, Mark Herring has–controversially–let the courts know that he will not defend the state’s ban.

The other lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday.

"We want to be clear that we're fighting for families across the state," said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, in a press release distributed by Lambda Legal.

On estimate made by the plaintiff's legal team is that there are more than 15,000 same-sex households in Virginia.

"This marriage ban affects families in a number of different ways by denying them the many protections that come with marriage. It's important that our case address the many ways that families are hurt by our discriminatory laws," Gastañaga said.

The Harrisonburg lawsuit was originally filed on August 1, and argued that, through the marriage bans, Virginia sent a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed 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.

At that time the case was filed that ACLU indicated an interest in having more gay Virginia couples come forward as a part of their class action suit.

"We are pleased that the Court has certified this case as a class action. With this certification, all the same-sex couples in Virginia seeking the freedom to marry and those who want Virginia to recognize their marriages have officially become part of the fight against the State's discriminatory constitutional and statutory marriage bans," said Greg Nevins, Counsel in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta.

The couples named originally in the class action case are: Joanne Harris, 38, and Jessica Duff, 33, of Staunton, who have been together since 2006 and have a four-year-old son, Jabari. Christy Berghoff, 34, and Victoria Kidd, 35, who are from Winchester and have been together almost ten years. They have a one year old daughter, Lydia. They married legally in Washington, DC, but their home state does not recognize their marriage.

"The stories of our clients are just a small representation of the thousands of stories across the country in states like Virginia that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry," said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "We're glad that this case will apply to all Virginians who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other, and hope that Virginia will follow the 17 other states that have preceded it in granting marriage equality."

Read the decision and orders here: