Today we filed another marriage case, this time on the solidly southern soil of Virginia. The case is a joint venture among the ACLU, the ACLU of Virginia, and Lambda Legal on behalf of two lesbian couples who represent a class of same-sex couples who want to marry in Virginia or who are already married elsewhere and want Virginia to respect their marriages. We're hoping to broaden the conversation around the freedom to marry and to bring compelling stories to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, where we have high hopes for a fair hearing down the road.
The two families at the heart of this case keep us focused on what this struggle is all about.
Joanne Harris and Jessi Duff have been together for 11 years and want to marry at home in Virginia. They had a commitment ceremony back in 2006, which was meaningful to them, but even their four-year-old son Jabari knows that they aren't actually married; he wants them to "really get married," and soon. At a young age, he knows that marriage is the language of commitment in our culture, he knows that his parents have made that commitment, and he doesn't get why they can't marry. In addition, Joanne and Jessi worry that if Joanne's epilepsy causes her to be incapacitated, Jessi may not be able to make medical decisions for her since Virginia considers her a legal stranger, plus Joanne's family hasn't always supported their relationship and doesn't agree with Joanne's wishes regarding end-of-life decision-making. They also worry about whether Jessi will be able to make medical and other decisions for their son, since Virginia won't allow Jessi to become a second legal parent to him unless she marries Joanne (which of course they won't let her do).
After hoping for years to be able to marry in Virginia, Christy Berghoff, an Air Force veteran, and Victoria Kidd finally got married in DC two years ago after that became a possibility. But because of Virginia's marriage law, Christy is considered married when she's at her job in DC on weekdays, but loses that marriage (at least in the eyes of the Commonwealth) during her commute home to see Victoria and their eight-month-old daughter Lydia in the evenings. It's also frustrating to Christy and Victoria that, as a married veteran, Christy should be able to qualify for a home loan from the Veterans' Administration. But since Virginia considers Christy and Victoria to be unmarried, they are not eligible for the full VA home loan guarantee that married heterosexual couples would get.
We're counting on these stories, as well as those in the marriage cases the ACLU has pending in Pennsylvania , North Carolina, Illinois, and New Mexico, to convince the courts that marriage discrimination isn't fair, that it harms people who have made the commitment at the heart of marriage, and that once you're married, you're married. People's marriages shouldn't blink on and off like cellphone service as they travel from work to home or from state to state.
And through our Out for Freedom campaign, we continue to work through state legislatures and ballot initiatives to win marriage in more states, which is the surest way to give us the best odds in court.
Today, the first day that same-sex couples can marry in Rhode Island and Minnesota, is a great day to start the next chapter in our struggle for the freedom to marry all across the country, including in the South.