The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

January 17, 2014

Attorney encouraged by gay marriage rulings

CHARLESTON — An attorney whose group is challenging West Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages said she was encouraged by recent federal rulings in Oklahoma and Utah.

Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights group, contends West Virginia’s Defense of Marriage Act violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It filed a complaint in federal court in October on behalf of three same-sex couples and the child of one couple.

West Virginia doesn’t allow same-sex marriage or recognize those that occurred in other states.  

Judges in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have all ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Gay marriages in Utah have been put on hold pending a decision from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell in Atlanta said Wednesday she believes the rulings give plaintiffs additional arguments to persuade Judge Robert C. Chambers that West Virginia’s ban is unconstitutional. She said the momentum was also in their favor.

“The decisions are well reasoned,” Littrell said. “They’re very meticulous in their analysis in constitutional protections and they come out on the side of marriage equality.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office has intervened as a defendant in the case. A Morrisey spokeswoman declined comment.

The initial lawsuit said the Kanawha and Cabell county clerks denied six adults marriage licenses under the state law, and that deprived them of shared health insurance, reduction of tax liabilities, family leave, caretaking decision power and death benefits.  

The attorney general’s office contends the law does not cause the plaintiffs any immediate harm.

The plaintiffs are partners Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins, and Justin Murdock and Will Glavaris, all of Huntington, and Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton, of St. Albans, and their son, Drew.    

Chambers, a Democrat, isn’t bound by decisions in other federal districts. He is a former West Virginia House speaker who was nominated to his federal court seat in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton.  

Twenty-seven states still have constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. West Virginia is among four states that forbid such marriages through state laws.

 

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