Virginia lawsuits escalate

The high-powered legal team that brought down California’s ban on same-sex marriage announced Monday (September 30) it will now seek to strike down a ban in Virginia.

Ted Olson and David Boies will lead the team sponsored by the American Foundation for Equal Rights to win a lawsuit against Proposition 8 to go after Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. The team is signing onto a lawsuit that was filed without organization assistance by a gay male couple in Norfolk, a city dominated by military interests.

Meanwhile, Lambda Legal and the ACLU, two prominent national legal groups, announced Monday they were filing a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit they filed in Virginia, also seeking to strike down the ban.

“Virginians denied the freedom to marry have no meaningful legislative path to gain the same protections for their families as other loving and committed couples,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, in a press release Monday morning, just prior to the Olson-Boies press conference announcing their news. “That’s why we’ve had to ask the federal court to overturn Virginia’s sweeping bans on recognizing same-sex relationships. We shouldn’t have to go to federal court to get Virginia to do what’s right.”

Olson and Boies’ team is joining a lawsuit filed in July by Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who have been together for 23 years, with private attorneys. Another couple, Mary Townley and Carol Schall, who were married in California in 2008, was added to the lawsuit early this month in an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia before Judge Arenda Wright Allen, an Obama appointee.

The Lambda-ACLU lawsuit, Harris v. McDonnell was filed August 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, in Harrisonburg, and is already set for a trial next June. That class action lawsuit represents two lesbian couples, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff, and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, as well as “all others similarly situated.”

The class action would represent both same-sex couples denied the right to marry in Virginia and couples already married in another state but being denied recognition in Virginia. (The Bostic plaintiffs have asked to be excluded from the class action in the Harris lawsuit to “ensure that they can litigate their…action to final judgment on the expedited schedule agreed to by the parties in that action.”) The Harris case is before Judge Michael Urbanski, also an Obama appointee. He has set October 29 to hear motions to certify the class and motions to dismiss the case. A bench trial has been set for June 2-13, 2014.

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