CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals could issue a ruling as soon as this summer on a case challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. Beth Littrell, staff attorney for Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office, said that decision will have a real effect in West Virginia.
“If the 4th Circuit affirms the Virginia decision and says that same-sex couples have to have access to marriage, there’s no justification, there would be no legitimate reason that West Virginia would be able to put up an argument (against such marriages) that would hold up in court,” Littrell said.
Lambda Legal is representing the three same-sex couples from West Virginia who filed a lawsuit last fall in Huntington Federal Court challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriages after they were denied marriage licenses in both Kanawha County and Cabell County.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers issued a stay for that West Virginia case, pending the decision from the appeals court on the Virginia case since West Virginia is in the 4th Circuit.
The decision to wait did not surprise Littrell. “What the Court did was officially acknowledge what we believed the Court was doing unofficially,” she said.
On appeal is the case of Bostic v. Schaefer. A lower court in Norfolk, Va., in considering that case, found that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages violates guarantees of equal protection and due process and, because of that, is unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed to allow time for the appeal. Arguments on the appeal were held last month.
The 4th Circuit’s ruling, whatever it is, could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Littrell, a Charleston native, said she believes opinions about same-sex marriages are changing across the country, including in West Virginia. “Some liberties and some constitutional rights are just too important to wait until we have a majority consensus on it,” she said.