What’s Next for LGBTQ Rights in Virginia?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vpickering/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vpickering/

Same-sex couples in the state of Virginia with an eye towards matrimony will be keeping track of the federal court Tuesday as it considers hearing a case from two Virginia couples — Tim and Tony, and Carol and Marry — who are suing the state in order to reverse its ban on same-sex marriage. At present, Virginia’s marriage requirements disallow “a marriage between persons of the same gender,” so voted by the state’s inhabitants in 2006.

Now, Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark R. Herring, chose to side with the plaintiffs in the case against Virginia’s law, rather than defending the state in the Attorney General’s usual capacity. “After a thorough legal review, I have now concluded that Virginia’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” said Herring of his position.

He cited a solid history of precedence for Attorney Generals refusing to defend laws they have found to be unconstitutional, and he noted that Virginia has historically been in the wrong for most major court cases. This includes Virginia against school desegregation in 1954, against interracial marriage in 1967, and against equal gender education in 1996. “It’s time for the Commonwealth to be on the right side of history,” he said in a release of his legal position.

While in 2006, 57 percent of voters were against equal rights to marriage, a 2013 survey showed that public opinion has seen a change since then. According to a Christopher Newport University public policy survey of Virginia, 56 percent of likely voters are against the state ban on same-sex marriage, with 36 percent in support, and 7 percent listing no opinion.

A study of the entire U.S. and its position on same-sex marriage was conducted by Gallup in May of 2013, and showed that as a nation, there’s been an increase in pro-same-sex-marriage sentiment. In 1996, 68 percent said that marriage between couples of the same sex should not be recognized, while 27 percent considered it “valid.” In 2013, approval for gay and lesbian couples to be married had reached a majority, 53 percent to the opposing 45 percent, reports Gallup’s poll. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act was signed, however, the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in 2012, and since then other states have made moves towards overturning their own same-sex marriage bans — including Oklahoma and Utah.

Indiana, on the other hand, is presently facing four same-sex appeals to the federal judge to overturn Indiana’s ban on gay marriage and civil unions, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The state’s constitutional marriage ban sends a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens,” said the ACLU statement on the matter, according to the Tribune. Part of the lawsuit deals with laws that could put same-sex couples who marry outside the state in jail for nine months, with possible fines up to $10,000 — something that the lawsuit is claiming “discourages” marriage outside the state borders as well as inside Indiana.

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