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Judge lifts stay on case challenging state’s same-sex marriage ban; no final ruling yet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A senior attorney for Lambda Legal, a national civil rights group, says the three same-sex couples challenging West Virginia’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman should “call the caterer.”

Beth Littrell, whose organization represents those couples, predicted the Mountain State’s ban on same-sex marriages within the Defense of Marriage Act would soon be lifted in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection this week of appeals on five similar cases out of Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Virginia.

The move from the High Court will let the rulings that struck down such bans in those states stand — meaning same-sex marriages are now legal there.

“That creates law that’s binding on West Virginia,” Littrell said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

That’s because the decision in Virginia that was upheld came from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — the appeals court that sets legal precedent for West Virginia. Wyoming, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kansas and Colorado also fall in the affected judicial circuits.

On Monday, Lambda Legal filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in Huntington Federal Court asking for a judgment in favor of the three couples who want to legally wed. Chambers has twice stayed action on the challenge to West Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages pending action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Chambers lifted the stay which allows the case to move forward from here.  It is not a final ruling, but there could be a ruling before the end of the year.  Attorneys for the defendants in the lawsuit, including Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole and Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick, have 14 days to file responses.

Before Monday’s move from the Court, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had intervened in the case on the state’s behalf and, additionally, filed a friend of the court brief in the Virginia court case asking that the ban on same-sex marriages there be upheld.

Morrisey’s next possible steps were not clear on Tuesday morning.

Littrell, though, was calling on him to drop any possible legal challenges. “The attorney general in West Virginia should recognize that the writing is on the wall and that the law is very clear and it’s time to put down his sword and embrace his neighbors,” she said.

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit, McGee vs. Cole, in Huntington Federal Court last October on behalf of Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins of Huntington, Justin Murdock and Will Glavaris of Huntington and Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton of St. Albans along with their son, Drew.

That lawsuit claimed the Defense of Marriage Act unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and their children and, by doing so, makes them “second class citizens” because they are not allowed the benefits that come with legal marriages.

Prior to Monday’s action from the U.S. Supreme Court, same-sex marriages were legal in 19 states.

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