Va. Overturns Marriage Ban
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 02:02
Virginia made waves last Thursday when U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen overturned the state’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage, making Virginia the first southern state to take such a strong pro-gay marriage stance.
Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and law professor Nan Hunter credited the same-sex marriage movement’s rising momentum to endorsements by high-profile figures like President Obama, younger generations’ support of marriage equality and a general shift in public opinion.
“In the more conservative states like Virginia, the public opinion had to reach a certain point before it was viable to bring a court challenge there…Judges may see a constitutional violation but hesitate to declare a law unconstitutional if they fear that the backlash to that ruling would ultimately do more harm than good,” Hunter said.
The Associated Press reported that Wright Allen stayed the ruling in light of the anticipated appeal to the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals; same-sex marriages cannot take place in Virginia until the Fourth Circuit upholds her decision. If Wright Allen’s ruling is upheld at the appeal level, it will apply to all states in the circuit — including North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.
According to Georgetown Law Professor and Constitutional Law Specialist David Cole, one potential problem with the appeal is that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who has opposed the ban since his election, has refused to defend the ban in the case of an appeal.
“I think there’s a question about whether the Virginia decision can be appealed to the Fourth Circuit. In the California case, the Proposition 8 case from last year, the Supreme Court ruled that where the attorney general representing the state refused to defend a state law banning same-sex marriage, there was no party that had standing to pursue the appeal,” Cole said.
Philip Tam (MSB ’14), treasurer of GU Pride and a native northern Virginian, hoped that Virginia’s ruling would encourage other southern states to recognize same-sex marriage.
“I remember even back when I was in high school I never would have imagined that something like this would even happen, in a state like Virginia. This might be sort of like the first domino in the effect that the rest of the south potentially can now recognize marital equality,” Tam said.
Mack Krebs (COL ’16), who hails from the southern city of Lynchburg, Va., said that demographics in Virginia are changing.
“It’s very exciting that it’s overturned, especially because it’s such a conservative state. It was very unexpected… I’m very happy with it, and I look forward to seeing what happens with it,” Krebs said.
With same-sex marriage legalized in nearby Maryland and D.C., Krebs did not foresee a change in movement of same-sex couples into Virginia.
“We already have Maryland and D.C. for gays who want to get married so I feel like they’d be there. And the political climate of northern Virginia is much more accepting than southern Virginia, so I don’t think it’ll change very much,” Krebs said.
Despite northern Virginia’s liberal tendencies, Hunter held that the dissolution of legal barriers that currently keep same-sex couples in D.C. and Maryland will promote the movement of same-sex couples into Virginia.
“Right now there’s a sense among gay people in the metropolitan area that you want to either live in D.C. or Maryland because Virginia’s just viewed as a pretty hostile jurisdiction, so I think that will change.”
Tam agreed, noting that the ruling could stymie support for a more tolerant atmosphere toward the LGBTQ community in the area — and at Georgetown.
“It sends a message to the Georgetown community and especially the LGBTQ community at Georgetown that the area that we’re living in, no matter if you’re going into D.C., if you’re going back to Maryland, Virginia, it’s a very friendly, very progressive place to be,” Tam said.
Tam hoped that the ruling’s publicity would encourage support for groups in the LGBTQ community that do not receive as much media attention.
“There’s a lot of other groups that don’t necessarily get the coverage, so, gender fluidity, just being queer … with so much momentum behind it right now, if this is something that can be done and hopefully recognized on a national level, this momentum can carry on to focus on other issues that equally deserve the attention but aren’t necessarily getting that,” Tam said.
Since the Virginia ruling was the first of its kind among southern states, Hunter surmised that the ruling could hold a strong precedent for other southern states to reconsider their own marriage laws.
“It is the first time that a marriage statute has been struck down in a southern state, but the momentum for challenging these marriage laws has gotten so fast that I think some marriage cases will be before the Supreme Court in the next term,” Hunter said.