With the U.S. Supreme Court’s freedom to marry decision just around the corner, we’re embarking on a blog series to document the fight to bring marriage equality to the Commonwealth, and – we hope – to every state later this month. Check back throughout the next month to learn about the history and real world impact of marriage equality.
Freedom to Marry Brings us Full Circle
by Lavonda Graham-Williams, Chair of the Equity Committee of the ACLU of Virginia Board of Directors
In a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a very basic question – can the government deny lesbian and gay couples equal marriage rights? Over 40 years ago, a similar issue brought together the group of activists who would form the ACLU of Virginia. Back then, the question was whether the Commonwealth could prohibit interracial marriage. Their court challenge culminated in the Supreme Court’s historic Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967 that found Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional. Just as it was 40 years ago, the answer to marriage bans targeting lesbian and gay couples should be clear – such laws have no place in the Commonwealth or in any other state. We’re hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will clarify this once and for all!
Fortunately for Virginia’s lesbian and gay couples, the freedom to marry is already in place in the Commonwealth. It’s been almost a year since the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Virginia’s laws prohibiting lesbian and gay couples from marrying and refusing recognition to lesbian and gay couples’ marriages from other states are unconstitutional. Then, in October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision, and the discriminatory marriage bans made their long-overdue departure. On that day, October 6, 2014, the freedom to marry finally arrived in Virginia.
Still, when lesbian and gay couples in thirteen other states say “I do,” their government tells them, “No you don’t!” For these couples, it’s not only about the indignity of the state telling them they cannot marry the person they love, but also about the denial to these loving couples and their families of the legal foundation that marriage secures for families – a legal foundation that, as Victoria Kidd (our former freedom to marry client and current Board of Directors member) said, “protects our spouses and our children in the event of unforeseen occurrences.”
This is a bittersweet moment at the ACLU of Virginia. On one hand, we may be weeks away from securing the freedom to marry for all lesbian and gay couples. On the other hand, the fact that we’re still debating whether discrimination against LGBT people, on the job, in housing, or in access to services, is permissible shows just how far we still have to go.
The fight for marriage equality has brought us back to our roots. As it was then, securing the freedom to marry is a crucial step toward securing equality for people who have as a group experienced many years of discrimination. As it was then, it is only one step in a journey that must continue until every person is accorded equal rights and equal dignity.
Want to stay informed about our work to secure equality for all Virginians? Continue to follow our blog, and check out our Facebook and Twitter for breaking news! And, sign up to be a grassroots advocate.