Family the focus of gay marriage case in Va.
Posted May 13, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. — The attorneys and plaintiffs in a gay marriage case in Virginia got the rock star treatment Tuesday outside the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from crowds gathered to advance their views on either side of the issue.
A Virginia district court has already ruled the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The three-judge federal panel heard arguments Tuesday to overturn that decision. Audio: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears marriage case
Lawyers supporting the ban told the judges each state has the right to regulate marriage, and that the court should, "defer to the democratic process."
But one judge noted that the states cannot, in his words, "trample" the equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Lawyers against the ban say the state is treating same-sex couples and their children as second-class citizens.
Emily Schall-Townley, the 16-year-old daughter of a lesbian couple challenging the ban told the crowd, “This is my family. It’s not really complicated. We love each other, and we do the things families do.”
Ken Zenzel sees it differently. He drove from Virginia Beach to back the ban.
"It's so important because the family is the nucleus of our civilization," he said. “I think we need a revival in this country. I think we need a return in this country to what we’re established on.”
Susan Faurot, of Portsmouth, disagreed about whether those founding principles would preclude same-sex marriage.
“This is not just a gay issue or a straight issue, this is equal rights for everyone – to be able to love who you love,” she said.
Two same-sex couples filed the lawsuit challenging Virginia's constitutional amendment and state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage and bar recognition of such unions performed in other states. The defendants are two circuit court clerks and the state registrar of vital records.
Austin Nimocks, an attorney representing one of those clerks, pointed to the fact that the ban stemmed from a ballot issue.
"We’re pleased that at the center of the argument was the right of Virginians to control the destiny of their own times," he said, "and the idea that Virginians are in control of the policy of our state, not the courts.”
Faurot questioned whether the vote was really a representation of the will of Virginians. "So much of the people have failed to be heard," she said.
Carol Schall and her partner, Mary Townley, are arguing for the court to uphold the earlier ruling. They celebrated with same-sex marriage backers.
"The judges really heard our case. Today is our day. Thank you," she said.
“These are tax-paying, job-holding people that have a right to express their opinion, and live the life they’ve chosen,” Faurot said.
A decision in Virginia could take weeks or even months. It shares the national spotlight with two other cases that have made it to the federal appeals level, and all parties expect the issue to ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, said the case was being watched closely in the Tar Heel state. "As you know, North Carolina is also in the 4th Circuit, so the ruling in the Virginia case could have an impact on the cases in North Carolina," she said.