This week I was invited to join a media conference call immediately following the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' favorable ruling in Virginia's Bostic v. Schaefer marriage-equality case. The call was hosted by Adam Umhoefer, Executive Director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), and included Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring; Bostic's co-counsel, Ted Olson and David Boies; Gregory Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal; and James Esseks, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Project at the ACLU. This marks the second positive ruling by a federal appeals court since last year's historic Windsor decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. This historic decision represents a major milestone on the path toward universal marriage equality in this country, as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court decision in Bostic v. Schaefer that found Virginia's ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples unconstitutional. The decision also paves the way for West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina to strike down their marriage bans, since those states are under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit. Maryland, the fifth state in the Fourth Circuit, passed marriage equality in January 2013.
The Virginia decision stated:
Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying gay and lesbian couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.
Ted Olson of the plaintiffs' lead co-counsel stated:
Today's decision stands as a testament that all Americans are created equal, and denying loving gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry is indefensible.
David Boies of the plaintiffs' lead co-counsel added:
Today's decision recognizes that marriage is one of the most fundamental rights -- if not the most fundamental right -- of all Americans. This court has affirmed that our plaintiffs -- and all gay and lesbian Virginians -- no longer have to live as second-class citizens who are harmed and demeaned every day.
In November 2006 voters in Virginia amended their state's constitution to define "marriage" as a union between one man and one woman and ban recognition of any legal status "approximating the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage" for gays and lesbians. Bostic was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in July 2013 on behalf of Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond, challenging the constitutionality of these laws on the grounds that they violate the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This decision is a major step forward for LGBT families.
For more information on AFER, visit afer.org.
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