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Plaintiffs in Va. marriage lawsuit ‘cautiously optimistic’

Christy Berghoff, Victoria Kidd, Harrisonburg, Virginia, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff join a handful of same-sex marriage supporters outside the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg, Va., on May 12, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HARRISONBURG, Va. — One of the three lead plaintiff couples in a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban on Monday told the Washington Blade they are “cautiously optimistic” on the eve of oral arguments in their case that will take place before a federal appeals court in Richmond.

“Cautiously optimistic I think is the best way to put it,” said Victoria Kidd of Winchester as she and her partner of 10 years, Christy Berghoff, and their 18-month-old daughter Lydia stood in front of the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg with a handful of same-sex marriage supporters from the group People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. “It’s wonderful to be able to stand up for our family.”

People of Faith for Equality in Virginia held similar gatherings in Winchester, Christiansburg and Richmond.

“Marriage should be entered into freely, deliberately, certainly seriously; but we should have the right to do that,” said Rev. Carolyn Mobley, interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond during an event at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near the state Capitol. “I cannot think of anything that would help me pursue my own happiness more than the opportunity to marry the person I love.”

Virginia, Richmond, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

An interfaith group of same-sex marriage advocates gathered at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mobley and more than two dozen others marched from the church to the state Capitol and then to the nearby federal courthouse where a three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case.

“I’m excited about what’s going on,” Henry Branch of Richmond told the Blade as he and his partner of more than two years, Les Quintana, stood outside the courthouse holding signs in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. “I never thought this would be happening at this time.”

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk last July filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield joined their case two months later alongside former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court had also agreed to represent the two couples.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kidd and Berghoff and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton. A federal judge in Harrisonburg earlier this year classified their case as a class action.

U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February found Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit a few weeks later ruled the ACLU and Lambda Legal could join the Bostic case.

Same-sex couples in neighboring West Virginia and North Carolina and South Carolina are among those who have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. A 4th Circuit ruling that upholds Allen’s decision could either strike down the three states’ same-sex marriage bans or allow gay advocates to mount additional legal challenges against them because they fall under the federal appellate court’s jurisdiction.

Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality last month filed amicus briefs with the federal appeals court in the Bostic case.

“We believe that the issue happening in the 4th Circuit has a direct impact on a large number of individuals in our state,” said South Carolina Equality Executive Director Ryan Wilson on Monday during a conference call with reporters. “The time is now we believe for the 4th Circuit to rule for marriage equality not only in Virginia, but in all the four states of the 4th Circuit.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the groups that filed amicus briefs with the 4th Circuit on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg and Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, who appealed Allen’s ruling. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown and Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, and others are scheduled to attend a rally outside the federal courthouse before the oral arguments begin.

“We’re not imposing our belief on them,” Bonnie Hockaday of Glen Allen told the Blade on Monday as she stood with other same-sex marriage supporters outside the federal courthouse in Richmond. “We’re not saying they have to get married, just allow [it.]”


S.C. lawmaker introduces pro-gay bill

James Smith, gay news, Washington Blade, South Carolina, Richland County, Democratic Party

State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) (Photo courtesy of the James Smith Campaign)

COLUMBIA, S.C.—State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to South Carolina’s employment anti-discrimination law.

“All hardworking people in our state should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, said. “Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.”

“The Workplace Fairness Act is really about protecting South Carolina’s diverse workforce to make it competitive for businesses that are looking to relocate to South Carolina,” added Smith.


S.C. gay advocates to marry in Md. on Jan. 1

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage, Maryland, South Carolina

Ryan Wilson and Shehan Welihindha (Photo courtesy of Ryan Wilson)

The head of South Carolina’s statewide LGBT advocacy group will marry his partner of nearly five years at Baltimore City Hall shortly after midnight on Jan. 1.

“It has been a long-time coming for us as a couple,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “Having the legal recognition for us as a couple is really important to us.”

Wilson, who grew up in Fallston in Harford County, met Shehan Welihindha in Detroit in 2008 during the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference.

Welihindha, who is from Sri Lanka, is studying for a Ph.D. in public health at the University of South Carolina. He is the part-time coordinator for the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center’s program that seeks to prevent HIV among young gay and bisexual men in Columbia, S.C., and the surrounding area.

Wilson proposed to Welihindha in 2009 on-stage during the annual South Carolina Pride as former “American Idol” contestant Frenchie Davis and thousands of others watched.

South Carolina will not recognize the couple’s Maryland marriage because voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment that bans nuptials between same-sex couples. The Defense of Marriage Act also prohibits Wilson from sponsoring Welihindha for his green card — he has been able to remain in the United States through a series of work and student visas.

“We feel now’s the time,” Welihindha told the Blade. “We’ve been together for five years and even though it’s not recognized in South Carolina, we feel [as] though getting married in a place that recognizes us as being equal as everyone else and coming back to South Carolina would be inspiring to the community there. It’s still something we feel is going to have a symbolic meaning to us because of that.”

Wilson and Welihindha are among the dozens of same-sex couples who are expected to marry across Maryland on the first day gays and lesbians can legally marry in the state.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will attend same-sex weddings that will begin at Baltimore City Hall at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. Several gay and lesbian couples are also expected to tie the knot in Cumberland just after midnight on New Year’s Day.

More than a dozen same-sex couples are expected to get married at the gay-owned Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore on Jan. 1. Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi will host what it describes as a “wedding reception” on Jan. 6 that will celebrate the same-sex marriage law.

As for Wilson and Welihindha, they said they are both excited and nervous as their wedding day approaches.

The couple had considered tying the knot in D.C. after same-sex marriage became legal in the nation’s capital in 2010, but Welihindha noted “Ryan and I got really excited” about the prospect of nuptials for gays and lesbians in Maryland “because that’s Ryan’s home state.”

“For us, immigration equality is kind of an important issue because my partner is from Sri Lanka originally and came over here to study and has not been able to get a green card. And living in South Carolina our relationship isn’t recognized at all,” Wilson added. “So getting a marriage license from a place like Maryland where I grew up is the first step along a path towards really recognizing our relationship. Of course we want to sort of be ready in case the courts rule in favor of marriage equality. We’ve been looking for the place to do it [and] when Maryland finally decided in favor of equality we decided this was the right time and the right place.”