Recognition of same-sex unions in Virginia
|Legal recognition of
The U.S. state of Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriage or unions. Since 2006, the state constitution defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman and bans recognition of any legal status that "intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage". A federal court decision in Bostic v. Rainey on February 13, 2014, found Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, but stayed enforcement of that decision pending appeal.
The Code of Virginia was amended to prohibit marriage between persons of the same sex in August 1975, to deny legal recognition to same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions in April 1997, and to prohibit civil unions or similar arrangements between members of the same sex, including arrangements created by private contract, in May 2004.
Arlington County announced plans in May 1997 to modify its employee health plan so that same-sex partners could gain coverage, and on March 12, 1998, three local taxpayers asked the Arlington County Circuit Court to stop the county from doing so. The Circuit Court agreed and on appeal the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in Arlington County v. White on April 21, 2000, that local governments are subject to state statutes and prohibited from expanding employee health insurance benefits beyond spouses or financial dependents.
In December 2009, Governor Tim Kaine started a process designed to extend employee health benefits to the same-sex partners of the state's employees. After Bob McDonnell became governor in January 2010, he asked Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for a legal opinion on such an extension of benefits, and Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion that the anticipated change to the state's health plan required authorizing legislation. His ruling ended the administrative process Kaine had initiated. In April 2010, McDonnell signed a bill that passed with bipartisan support to allow Virginia employers to offer private insurance coverage for their employees' same-sex partners.
Virginia has extended hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples through a designated visitor statute.
In November 2006, voters approved a constitutional amendment, known as the Marshall-Newman Amendment, that limited marriage to unions of one man and one woman by margin of 57% to 43% The amendment took effect on January 1, 2007. It also prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from creating or recognizing any legal status for relationships of unmarried couples, such as domestic partnerships.
- Bostic v. Rainey
On July 18, 2013, two gay men filed a lawsuit, Bostic v. Rainey, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Named as defendants are the Staunton Circuit Court Clerk and Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records. A lesbian couple, married in California and parents of a teenager, joined the case as plaintiffs. On September 30, the American Foundation for Equal Rights announced it was joining the case with Theodore Olson and David Boies as lawyers. On January 23, 2014, less than two weeks after taking office, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the his office would no longer defend the state in Bostic v. Rainey and will argue for the plaintiffs instead. Governor Terry McAuliffe supported him. Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen heard oral arguments on February 4, 2014, with attorneys for the circuit court clerk defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage. On February 13, Judge Wright Allen ruled that Virginia's statutory and constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. She held that marriage is a "fundamental right", that a limitation on the right to marry is therefore subject to "strict scrutiny", meaning that "compelling state interests" are required. She found that Virginia's arguments in support of its ban on same-sex marriage failed to meet that standard of review, and that they did not even pass "rational basis" review, the least demanding judicial standard. She stayed enforcement of her ruling pending appeal as the state had requested. The decision at the time "represented the strongest advance in the South for advocates of gay marriage."
- Harris v. McDonnell
On August 1, 2013, two lesbian couples, one of which married in the District of Columbia in 2011, filed a lawsuit, Harris v. McDonnell, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia represented by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union. They challenged both the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. They asked the court to recognize their suit as a class action on behalf of all same-sex couples in Virginia who seek to marry or have married elsewhere. On December 23, Judge Michael F. Urbanski removed the governor as a defendant, leaving the county clerk who denied one couple a license and the state registrar of vital records. On January 31, Urbanski certified the case as a class action. On February 19, he announced he would either rule based on the briefs already filed or stay the case pending action by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic.
A May 2011, Washington Post poll found that 47% of Virginians favored the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 43% opposed it and 10% had no opinion. It found 55% favored allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, while 35% opposed that and 10% had no opinion. The same poll found that 64% of residents from Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria, and Fairfax support same-sex marriage; 63% of residents from the counties of Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison, Rappahannock, Clarke, and Frederick, as well as the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, and Winchester support same-sex marriage, while only 42% of the rest of Virginia supports same-sex marriage.
A July 2011, Public Policy Polling survey found that 35% of Virginia voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 52% thought it should be illegal and 14% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 65% of Virginia voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 32% supporting same-sex marriage, 33% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 33% favoring no legal recognition and 2% not sure.
A December 2011, Public Policy Polling survey found that 34% of Virginia voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 53% thought it should be illegal and 13% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 59% of Virginia voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 31% supporting same-sex marriage, 28% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 38% favoring no legal recognition and 3% not sure.
A May 2012, Public Policy Polling survey found that 41% of Virginia voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 50% thought it should be illegal. 9% were not sure. When civil unions were thrown into the mix, 65% of voters favored some form of legal recognition for gay couples.
A June 2012, Washington Post poll found that 49% of Virginians favored the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 40% opposed it and 11% had no opinion.
A Washington Post poll taken between April and May 2013, found that 56% of registered voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while only 33 percent thought it should be illegal, and 10% had no opinion.
A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting poll taken in June 2013 found that 55% of Virginians support same-sex marriage. Among respondents below the age of 30, support is at 71%.
A July 2013, Quinnipiac poll found that 50% of Virginians support same-sex marriage while 43% oppose it.
A September 2013 Marist poll found 55% of Virginia residents support gay marriage, while 37% oppose it.
An October 2013 poll by Christopher Newport University found that 56% of likely voters oppose the ban on same-sex marriage, compared to 36% who favor it.
A December 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 52% of Virginia residents support same-sex marriage, while 42% opposed, and 6% didn't know or refused to answer.
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- A Shifting Landscape