State halts fight against same-sex marriages; licenses being issued

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Same-sex marriage is now legal in West Virginia. It happened Thursday afternoon after state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he could no longer defend the state’s Defense of Marriage Act following action earlier this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minutes after Morrisey’s announcement state DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling announced same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses would not be turned away at county courthouses.

“Early on in this case I had a duty to defend the state law but once the Supreme Court has made its decision and you don’t see a pathway forward you have to accept that,” Morrisey told MetroNews. “That’s why we’ve indicated we’re respecting the U.S. Supreme Court decision and moving forward.”

Morrisey was fighting the challenge made to the state law by three same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit in 2013. The case was almost identical to one in Virginia which eventually resulted in overturning the ban on same-sex marriages in that state and that’s the case the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up.

“Once that decision came down it became clear what would happen to the West Virginia case,” Morrisey said.

Lambda Legal represented the same-sex couples in the West Virginia challenge. Attorney Beth Littrell said Morrisey’s decision was the right thing to do both constitutionally and fiscally.

“This means that there’s nobody standing in the way for same-sex couples in West Virginia to exercise their constitutional rights and be able to get married,” Littrell said.

DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling said the new wording on marriage licenses for same-sex couples would be available by next Tuesday at the latest. Couples who begin the licensing process in the interim will receive licenses with the old wording of “groom and bride” as opposed to the new “applicant and applicant.”

Within minutes of the announcement, Chris Bostic and David Epp became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Kanawha County. There were several licenses granted in Cabell County with one couple being married on the courthouse steps in Huntington. However, the news was slow to spread across the state. A tweet from Travis Crum of the LGBT advocacy group Fairness West Virginia claimed a same-sex couple in Randolph County was denied a marriage license because the clerk hadn’t received notification.

Littrell predicted it would be busy over the next few weeks.

“There will be a wave of couples who have pent up energy and need to be able to get married to secure their relationships with each other and their children,” she said.

AG Morrisey said there are still a few things that must be done to finalize the lawsuit that is still before U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin responded to Morrisey’s decision with the following statement:

“As the attorney general stated today, recent rulings by several federal courts, combined with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this issue, make it clear that laws banning same-sex marriage have been declared unconstitutional. I do not plan to take any actions that would seek to overturn the courts’ decisions. West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings, and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible.

“Our state is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike. I encourage all West Virginians—regardless of their personal beliefs—to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect.”

Littrell said she had no way to predict how long the legal challenge would continue in West Virginia. She said she felt good about their chances as constitutions and laws in more and more states were being overturned when it came to the marriage issue.

“It did feel like the win would come sooner rather than later,” she said.

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