Virginia Marriage Case Given Class-Action Status

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jonathan Adams, Lambda Legal, 646-752-3251; jadams@lambdalegal.org
Robyn Shepherd, ACLU national, 212-519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, ACLU of Virginia, 804-523-2146 or 337-3233; claire@acluva.org

Virginia Marriage Case Given Class-Action Status

Lawsuit Brought By ACLU and Lambda Legal Will Represent All Same-Sex Couples in the State

NORFOLK, Va. - Today, a federal district court in Virginia certified as a class action a lawsuit challenging that state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, extending the scope of those represented in the lawsuit to all same-sex couples in the state who cannot legally marry or whose legal marriages performed elsewhere are not recognized by the commonwealth.

The case was initially filed on behalf of two couples by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner and Block.

“We want to be clear that we’re fighting for families across the state,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This marriage ban affects families in a number of different ways by denying them the many protections that come with marriage. It’s important that our case address the many ways that families are hurt by our discriminatory laws.”

The lawsuit was originally filed on August 1, and argued that, through the marriage bans, Virginia sent a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

“The stories of our clients are just a small representation of the thousands of stories across the country in states like Virginia that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We’re glad that this case will apply to all Virginians who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other, and hope that Virginia will follow the 17 other states that have preceded it in granting marriage equality.”

The couples named originally in the class action case are: Joanne Harris, 38, and Jessica Duff, 33, of Staunton, who have been together since 2006 and have a four-year-old son, Jabari. Christy Berghoff, 34, and Victoria Kidd, 35, who are from Winchester and have been together almost ten years. They have a one year old daughter, Lydia. They married legally in Washington, DC, but their home state does not recognize their marriage.

"We are pleased that the court has certified this case as a class action. With this certification, all the same-sex couples in Virginia seeking the freedom to marry and those who want Virginia to recognize their marriages have officially become part of the fight against the state's discriminatory constitutional and statutory marriage bans," said Greg Nevins, counsel in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta.

More information on this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/harris-et-al-v-mcdonnell-et-al

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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