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The Blue & Gray Press | October 17, 2017

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Marriage equality in Virginia remains a question

MARRIAGE

By JONATHAN POLSON

After numerous rulings on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth of Virginia, same-sex couples and public officials alike are now looking toward a potential Supreme Court case for the final word on the issue.

The first major ruling of the summer came in July, when a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February decision that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court then turned down a motion to stay the panel’s ruling, an action which would have allowed same-sex couples to begin applying for marriage licenses 21 days after the ruling on August 21. However, a single caveat remained. The U.S. Supreme Court still held the authority to deny the 4th Circuit Court’s ruling and institute a stay.

Following this announcement from the Circuit Court, Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michelle McQuigg sent an appeal to Chief Justice John Roberts, who holds jurisdiction over the 4th district. Similarly, attorneys representing the same-sex couples in Bostic v. Schaefer, urged the Supreme Court to deny the stay and allow the ruling to remain and effectively institute the legality of same-sex marriage in Virginia. On August 20, one day before the ruling would have gone into effect, the Supreme Court announced that the decision would be held for further appeals.

Ultimately, the decision was not unexpected, as the Supreme Court issued similar holds in the overturning of same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. All of the cases now await action by the Supreme Court.

While the nation waits for the Supreme Court to move on a decision, many activists are urging the high court to act. This would clarify definitively the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the United States.

Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring vocalized his support for same-sex marriage while simultaneously urging the Supreme Court to hold Virginia’s decision so that it may be evaluated on the federal level. Herring requested that the Supreme Court quickly take up the case and make a final decision.

Senior Ben Hermerding, president of the University of Mary Washington’s Young Democrats, noted how Virginia’s case adds to a large collection of rulings across the nation that are beginning to build impatience for a definitive ruling on the issue.

“As Virginians come to a greater acceptance of same-sex marriage, that’s the same as the whole United States,” said Hermerding. “And you can see that in state after state that are turning back anti same-sex marriage constitutional amendments.”

The next step logically, he said, is a Supreme Court case.

Nicole Tardif, chair of the UMW College Republicans, agreed that Virginia’s debate is reflective of the nation’s larger discourse on L.G.B.T. rights, but she noted that also means disagreement on the issue will remain present.

“I feel as if this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but not without some states contesting the decision,” said Tardif. “With that being said, it will most likely be a federal case that will ultimately decide the fate of same-sex marriage in the U.S.”

Many view the conflicting views present in Virginia on the issue as reflective of the overall changing tide in the nation toward same-sex marriage. Often referred to as a “purple” state, Virginia is sometimes deeply divided on social-political issues, but the 4th Circuit Court’s ruling and support from elected officials and citizens shows a change in view for the commonwealth, said Hermerding.

“Public polling in Virginia shows that Virginia’s understanding of same-sex marriage and belief toward same-sex marriage is evolving,” noted Hermerding. “And it’s moving in the right direction. It’s moving toward greater acceptance and a greater belief that people who love one another should be allowed to be married.”

Tardif expressed similar thoughts, stating that Virginia’s progression on same-sex marriage offers an opportunity for the Republican party to “update its policies on the issue,” as well as focus on other pressing issues facing the commonwealth.

“It gives our party the ability to focus our platform on more productive issues, like fiscal policies,” said Tardif.

As Virginia and the nation awaits action from the Supreme Court, other states are continuing to rule on the issue of same-sex marriage, though not all in the same way. On September 3, a federal judge in Louisiana upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.