Same sex couples now free to marry in Virginia

By Joe Beck

Separate actions by the U.S. Supreme Court and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday cleared the last obstacles to same sex couples marrying in Virginia.

The impact was felt almost immediately in Woodstock, where two women from Broadway walked out of the Clerk of Courts office around 3 p.m. as the first same sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Shenandoah County.

The staff in the Clerk of Courts office in Warren County also prepared to issue licenses, although no one had applied by the close of business Monday.

The Supreme Court rejected petitions to hear appeals of lower court decisions on marriage equality in Virginia. In doing so, it let stand a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in the 4th District that concluded same sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.

Herring’s office issued a news release around 1:30 p.m. Monday announcing his intention to join a same sex couple in a renewal of their marriage vows at 3:45 p.m. in Richmond. The couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley, were plaintiffs in the case that struck down Virginia’s ban on same sex marriages.

“A new day has dawned, and the rights guaranteed by our Constitution are shining through,” Herring declared in a written statement. “All Virginians have the constitutional right to be treated fairly and equally, to have loving, committed relationships recognized and respected, and to enjoy the blessings of married life. We should all be proud that our fellow Virginians helped lead us forward.”

Other elected officials and candidates reacted with a mix of opinions.

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, one of the state’s most vocal opponents of same sex marriage, issued a written statement blasting the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Make no mistake,” Marshall said. “Once natural marriage is abolished, marriage will soon include polygamy, or threesomes, leaving innocent children to suffer the consequences and other far-reaching consequences of attempting to force legal acceptance of so-called same sex marriage.”

John Foust, the Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in the 10th District, commended the Supreme Court and praised Herring “for his leadership in protecting the rights of same sex couples in Virginia. The fight to end discrimination is not over, and we must continue the hard work to ensure that all Virginians have a fair chance.”

Del. Barbara Comstock, Foust’s Republican opponent in the 10th District, did not reply to a message asking for comment about the legalization of same sex marriage.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide organization advocating for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, hailed the fall of the last barriers to same sex marriage.

“After decades of work to change hearts and minds, the freedom to marry is now a reality,” Parrish said. “This is such an exciting and historic day, and we are thrilled for the thousands of couples whose relationships — and families — will now be recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Jennifer Sims, Warren County’s Clerk of Courts, said the marriage license applications for same sex and heterosexual couples are identical except for a single change in wording.

“The only thing that’s changed is they removed the words ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ and put in the words ‘spouse’ and ‘spouse,'” Sims said. “There’s nothing else different about it.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com