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The Supreme Court is expected to rule on two same-sex marriage cases this week.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Same-sex couples in Virginia and defenders of traditional unions between men and women are attentively looking to Washington this week, where the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce rulings on two cases that might fundamentally change the definition of marriage.
“The Supreme Court decision is a huge one for us; it will determine if we will continue to live here in Virginia,” said gay-rights activist Judd Proctor, who resides with his husband Brian Burns in north Richmond. The couple met in 1995 and married in Massachusetts seven years ago.
Virginia law does not recognize same-sex marriages, including those from out of state. A 2006 amendment to the state constitution defines marriage as a union only between a man and a woman.
It is unclear if the eagerly awaited Supreme Court decisions will change the status quo in the commonwealth.
Since March, the justices have deliberated over two cases.
In Windsor v. U.S., New York resident Edith “Edie” Windsor is challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, alleging that the law violates equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states.
Windsor was charged an estate tax bill much larger than other married couples because her deceased partner was a woman and the federal government did not recognize their marriage, even though their state, New York, did.
The second case centers on California’s Proposition 8. In 2008, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian marriages are legal. But after the statewide ballot measure Proposition 8 won with a 52 percent majority vote, same-sex marriages were put on hold.
Proposition 8 supporters asked the Supreme Court to preserve the will of the voters, while opponents demand a court-ordered expansion of the traditional views of marriage.
“There is no one who knows how the court is going to decide on either marriage case,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation of Virginia, which opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage. “They have a lot of wiggle room in any direction, and after the Obamacare decision, we know the justices can be very creative with the law.”.
Some gay-rights activists predict that the court will strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and overturn Proposition 8 without applying California’s acceptance of same-sex marriage to other states.
While gay and lesbian couples in Virginia say this would be a step in the right direction, it likely would lead to few immediate changes in the state.
“Same-sex couples who are married and living in one of the 12 freedom-to-marry states, or the District of Columbia, will be clearly eligible for the federal protections and responsibilities afforded all other married couples,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia Advocates. “However, for those legally married same-sex couples, and widows and widowers, who live in a state like Virginia that discriminates against their marriages, access to all federal marital protections is less clear and will require some work.”
While a majority of Virginians voted for the 2006 amendment, a recent poll sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies shows that seven years later, Virginians are essentially split on the issue, with 46 percent opposed and 45 percent in support of same-sex marriage.
Barring overriding action by the U.S. Supreme Court, a repeal of the state amendment is unlikely any time soon.
Gay-rights activist Proctor said that if the winds aren’t changing in the commonwealth, he and his husband would consider moving to “a more open-minded and tolerant” state, possibly Massachusetts or Maryland, where he said their marriage would be respected and treated as equal under the law.
“Virginia has a history of LGBT citizens seeking self-exile, out of the state, over the years,” Proctor said. “If Virginia LGBT citizens are left out and their same-sex marriages are not recognized and DOMA falls, Virginia same-sex couples will be leaving the state to protect their families, especially their children.”
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