By Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director
At yesterday’s U.S. District Court hearing in Harrisonburg, Judge Michael F. Urbanski heard arguments on three separate issues surrounding the marriage equality case brought by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and ACLU of Virginia.
The hearing began with a motion from Governor McDonnell to be dismissed from the case. The attorney for the Governor argued that he should not be involved in this case because he has no direct responsibility for enforcing Virginia’s ban on marriages between people of the same sex. In response, we argued that Virginia marriage law affects almost every aspect of state government - who can adopt, who can file tax returns, which state employees can obtain health benefits for their spouse, etc. If the marriage ban is held unconstitutional, the Governor is the only state official who can make the necessary changes in all areas affected by marriage.
The Governor’s request for dismissal was followed by a request from Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Roberts to also be dismissed from the case. In our argument on the matter, we stated that Mr. Roberts is an appropriate defendant because he is directly responsible for implementing Virginia’s marriage ban, since he is in charge of issuing marriage licenses. Mr. Robert’s attorney argued that he should not be a defendant in this case because he has no choice but to follow Virginia’s law and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After the arguments for dismissal, the judge heard our request to allow the case to proceed as a class action suit. We asked for class action status because it is important that, if the marriage ban is found unconstitutional, the ruling applies to all Virginia same-sex couples who want to marry or to have their marriages from other jurisdictions recognized in the Commonwealth.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Urbanski issued no ruling but said he would write an opinion on each of the motions.
We expect the case to proceed. Even if our request for class certification is denied, we will continue our fight for marriage equality on behalf of our four named plaintiffs.
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