HRC Blog

In Virginia Ruling, Judge Dismantles Arguments Against Marriage Equality

You won’t want to miss these amazing quotes from the judge's ruling in the Virginia marriage equality case. Late Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the state’s ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples is unconstitutional in Bostic v. Rainey, the case brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). Her ruling is stayed pending appeal, meaning marriages will not occur immediately in the commonwealth.

Read the excerpts below:

Fundamental Right to Marry

P. 21-22: Just as there can be no question that marriage is a fundamental right, there is also no dispute that under Virginia's Marriage Laws, Plaintiffs and Virginia citizens similar to Plaintiffs are deprived of that right to marry. The Proponents' insistence that Plaintiffs have embarked upon a quest to create and exercise a new (and some suggest threatening) right must be considered, but, ultimately, put aside. The reality that marriage rights in states across the country have begun to be extended to more individuals fails to transform such a fundamental right into some "new" creation.

Plaintiffs ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia's adult citizens. They seek simply the same right that is currently enjoyed by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond.

P. 22: These laws interject profound government interference into one of the most personal choices a person makes.

Pp. 22-23: Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.

Tradition

P. 24: Virginia's purported interest in minimizing marriage fraud is in no way furthered by excluding one segment of the Commonwealth's population from the right to marry based upon that segment's sexual orientation.

Pp. 25-26 (quoting Lawrence v. Texas): The inescapable conclusion regarding the Commonwealth's interest in tradition is that an adherence to a historical definition of traditional marriage is desired to avoid "radical changes" that would result in the diminishing one common, long-held view of what marriage means. The Supreme Court has rejected the assertion that a prevailing moral conviction can, alone, justify upholding a constitutionally infirm law: '"the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack.'"  Our courts are duty-bound to define and protect "the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code."

P. 26: Nearly identical concerns about the significance of tradition were presented to, and resolved by, the Supreme Court in its Loving decision. The Loving Court struck down Virginia's ban on interracial marriage despite the ban's existence since "the colonial period."  Notwithstanding the undeniable value found in cherishing the heritages of our families, and many aspects of the heritages of our country and communities, the protections created for us by the drafters of our Constitution were designed to evolve and adapt to the progress of our citizenry.

P. 26: Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage.

Federalism

P. 28: In Windsor, our Constitution was invoked to protect the individual rights of gay and lesbian citizens, and the propriety of such protection led to upholding state law against conflicting federal law. The propriety of invoking such protection remains compelling when faced with the task of evaluating the constitutionality of state laws.

Pp. 28-29: The Proponents' related contention that judicial intervention should be suspended in deference to the possibility that the Virginia legislature and Virginia's electorate might resolve Plaintiffs' claims also lacks merit. The proposal disregards the gravity of the ongoing significant harm being inflicted upon Virginia's gay and lesbian citizens. Moreover, the proposal ignores the needless accumulation of that pain upon these citizens, and the stigma, humiliation and prejudice that would be visited upon these citizens' children, as they continue to wait for this possibility to become realized.

P. 29: [T]his Court must perform its constitutional duty in deciding the issues currently presented before it. Notwithstanding the wisdom usually residing within proper deference to state authorities regarding domestic relations, judicial vigilance is a steady beacon searching for an ever-more perfect justice and truer freedoms for our country's citizens. Intervention under the circumstances presented here is warranted, and compelled.

Children

P. 30: Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest. However, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia's Marriage Laws betrays that interest. E. S.-T., like the thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples, is needlessly deprived of the protection, the stability, the recognition and the legitimacy that marriage conveys.

P. 31: [T]he purported "for-the-children" rationale fails to justify Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage because recognizing a gay individual's fundamental right to marry can in no way influence whether other individuals will marry, or how other individuals will raise families.

P. 31: Plaintiffs honor, and yearn for, the sacred values and dignity that other individuals celebrate when they enter into marital vows in Virginia, and they ask to no longer be deprived of the opportunity to share these fundamental rights.

P. 32: The "for-the-children" rationale rests upon an unconstitutional, hurtful and unfounded presumption that same-sex couples cannot be good parents.

P. 33: [T]he "for-the-children" rationale misconstrues the dignity and values inherent in the fundamental right to marry as primarily a vehicle for "responsibly" breeding "natural" offspring.

P. 33: [T]he "for-the-children" rationale fails to justify denying an individual the benefits and dignity and value of celebrating marriage simply because of the gender of the person whom that individual loves. The state's compelling interests in protecting and supporting our children are not furthered by a prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Equal Protection

P. 37: Virginia's Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny. Accordingly, this Court need not address Plaintiffs' compelling arguments that the Laws should be subjected to heightened scrutiny.

The Proponents' contentions that a rational relationship exists between Virginia's Marriage Laws at issue and a legitimate purpose have been considered carefully. These contentions have been evaluated fully under the analysis of Plaintiffs' substantive due process claims.

The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia's citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state's will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation"—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia's gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.

Conclusion

Pp. 38-39: Each of the parties before the Court recognizes that marriage is a sacred social institution. The commitment two individuals enter into to love, support each other, and to possibly choose to nurture children enriches our society. Although steeped in a rich, tradition- and faith-based legacy, Virginia's Marriage Laws are an exercise of governmental power. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, Virginia's laws ensures that marriage provides profound legal, financial, and social benefits, and exacts serious legal, financial, and social obligations. The government's involvement in defining marriage, and in attaching benefits that accompany the institution, must withstand constitutional scrutiny. Laws that fail that scrutiny must fall despite the depth and legitimacy of the laws' religious heritage.

Pp. 39-40: "[T]he history of our Constitution ... is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded." United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 557 (1996).  Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have becomeabroader, more diverse family than once imagined.

Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed.  We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.

P. 40: The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court's power, they and all others shall have.

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