The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 2, 2013

Group challenges West Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban

MORGANTOWN — A national gay rights organization sued the state of West Virginia over its ban on same-sex marriages Tuesday, declaring its Defense of Marriage Act a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

New York-based Lambda Legal filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Huntington on behalf of three same-sex couples and the child of one couple. It filed a similar lawsuit last month challenging Virginia’s ban on gay marriages.

In the West Virginia case, Lambda Legal argues the state’s ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and their children. The organization says its clients are denied the legal sanction, societal respect, financial protections and other support that marriage gives to heterosexual couples.

The group also contends the law violates constitutionally guaranteed rights to equal protection under the law and sends a message that gay men, lesbians and their children are second-class citizens “without any compelling, important or even legitimate justification.”

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

The lawsuit says the Kanawha and Cabell county clerks denied the six adults marriage licenses under the state law, and that effectively denies them many benefits that could make their lives easier. Those include shared health insurance, reduction of tax liabilities, family leave, caretaking decision power and death benefits.

The law also punishes their children by giving them “a badge of inferiority that invites disrespect in school, on the playground and in every other sphere of their lives,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the state law unconstitutional and require the county clerks to issue marriage licenses.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declined comment.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, which has long battled gay marriage legislation, said lawmakers should respond to the lawsuit “by doing everything in their power to strengthen and defend marriage” as it’s traditionally been defined.

President Jeremiah Dys called the lawsuit a regrettable but not surprising. He said his group has tried for years to get legislators to strengthen the state constitution because the law itself “may not be sufficient to protect the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

“We hope our lawmakers will now — as they have promised — protect this most central institution for society and the well-being of children,” he said.

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.

Michael said she and Fenton have been together for 16 years.

“We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family,” she said, “but we worry all the time that it isn’t enough. We need the protection that marriage affords.”

Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell said the state’s motto, Mountaineers are Always Free, will ring hollow “until all West Virginians — no matter who they love — have the freedom to marry.”

Casey Willits, executive director of the advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, praised the lawsuit as a critical first step toward ending discrimination.

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