Same-sex marriage in Virginia

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Legal status of same-sex unions

* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of Virginia since October 6, 2014, following a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to refuse to hear an appeal of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case Bostic v. Schaefer. Marriages of same-sex couples subsequently began at 1:00 p.m. on October 6 after the Circuit Court issued its mandate, and since then Virginia has performed legal marriages of same-sex couples and recognized out-of-state same-sex marriages.[1][2]

State recognition had been prohibited by statute in 1975, and further restrictions were added in 1997 and 2004, which made "void and unenforceable" any arrangements between same-sex couples bestowing the "privileges or obligations of marriage". Voters approved a constitutional amendment reinforcing the existing laws in 2006. On January 14, 2014, a U.S. district court judged ruled in Bostic v. Schaefer that Virginia's statutory and constitutional ban on state recognition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

Same-sex marriage is supported by both of the state's U.S Senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.[3][4]


In August 1975, the Code of Virginia was amended to prohibit marriages between persons of the same sex.[5] On February 4, 1997, the Virginia State Senate, by a 37-3 vote, approved a bill banning recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions and "any contractual rights created by such marriage". On February 19, the Virginia House of Delegates, by an 81-8 vote, approved the bill. On March 15, Governor George Allen signed the legislation, which took effect on July 1.[6][7]

On March 10, 2004, the State Senate, by a 28-10 vote, approved a bill prohibiting civil unions or similar arrangements between members of the same sex, including arrangements created by private contract. On March 11, the House of Delegates, by a 77-21 vote, approved the bill. On April 15, the House of Delegates received the Governor's recommendations on the bill. On April 21, the House of Delegates rejected the recommendations by a vote of 35-65 and by a 69-30 vote approved the bill prohibiting civil unions. That same day, the State Senate, by a 27-12 vote, approved the bill. It became law without Governor Mark Warner's signature and went into effect on July 1.[8]

On February 3, 2014, the House of Delegates voted 65-32 in favor of a bill giving the Virginia General Assembly the right to defend a provision of the Constitution of Virginia that is contested or constitutionality questioned if the Governor or Attorney General choose not to defend the law. On February 21, the State Senate Committee on Rules voted 12-4 in favor of it being passed by indefinitely in rules, which effectively killed the bill for that session.[9]

On February 3, 2015, the state Senate voted in favor of a bill seeking to update Virginia's statutory laws by making references to marriage gender-neutral. The bill was sponsored by Senator Adam Ebbin and enjoyed bipartisan support.[10] The bill, however, died in a House subcommittee.[11] In January 2016, Senator Ebbin introduced a similar bill, which later died without a vote.[12][13] A bill codifying same-sex marriage in Virginia's laws was introduced in the House in January 2018 by Representative Marcus Simon. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Ebbin.[14][15] None of them passed into law.


On February 26, 2005, the House of Delegates voted 79-17 in favor of a constitutional amendment, known as the Marshall-Newman Amendment, that would ban same-sex marriage and any "legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage." That same day, the Virginia State Senate voted 30-10 in favor of the constitutional amendment.[16] An amendment to the Constitution of Virginia requires approval by two succeeding elected legislatures. As such, on January 13, 2006, the House of Delegates voted 73-22 in favor of the amendment, and on February 17, the State Senate voted 29-11 in favor.[17] On November 7, 2006, voters approved the constitutional amendment, which took effect on January 1, 2007.[18][19]

In January 2016, Senator Adam Ebbin introduced a resolution which proposed to repeal Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The resolution died without a vote.[13][20]

Federal lawsuits[edit]

Bostic v. Schaefer[edit]

This case was previously styled as Bostic v. McDonnell and as Bostic v. Rainey before being appealed.

On July 18, 2013, two gay men filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage.[21] A lesbian couple, married in California and parents of a teenager, joined the case as plaintiffs.[22] In January 2014, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Governor Terry McAuliffe announced their support for the suit.[23][24] Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen heard oral arguments on February 4, 2014, with attorneys for the Clerk of the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage.[25]

On February 13, 2014, Judge Wright Allen ruled that Virginia's statutory and constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.[26] The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on May 13.[27] On July 28, the Fourth Circuit ruled 2–1 in favor of striking down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.[28] The U.S. Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the ruling on August 20,[29] though on October 6, the court rejected Virginia's appeal in brief, allowing the Fourth Circuit to immediately lift the stay of the ruling. Same-sex couples thus began marrying in Virginia from 1 p.m. on October 6, 2014.[1][2] The first same-sex couple to marry in the Commonwealth was Lindsey Oliver and Nicole Pries in Richmond, Virginia.[30][31]

Harris v. Rainey[edit]

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 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia represented by Lambda Legal and the ACLU. 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.[32]

On December 23, Judge Michael F. Urbanski removed the Governor as a defendant, leaving the state registrar of vital records and the county clerk who denied a license to one of the couples.[33] On January 31, the judge certified the case as a class action, now restyled as Harris v. Rainey.[34] On March 31, Judge Urbanski ordered Harris stayed until the Fourth Circuit issues a decision in Bostic.[35]


On April 28, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that cohabitation laws also apply to same-sex couples.[36] Specifically, the Court ruled that a same-sex couple can be legally considered to have a relationship analogous to marriage, and if they had been in one for a year the partner no longer has to pay spousal support.


Percentage of same-sex marriages in Virginia's counties and independent cities, 2014-2018.

In the approximately 10-month period subsequent to same-sex marriage being legal in Virginia (October 6, 2014 to August 31, 2015), a total of 3,598 marriage certificates were filed for same-sex couples, making up 5.27% of all marriage certificates filed in the state in that time.[37] The three most popular city localities for same-sex marriages were Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Richmond.

Between 2014 and 2018, same-sex couples made up 11,360 of the 300,865 marriages performed in Virginia, or about 3.8%. Virginia Beach recorded the most same-sex marriages of any locality with 1,155, followed by Norfolk at 849 and Richmond at 564. The localities which registered the most same-sex marriages in comparison to heterosexual marriages were Buena Vista (where same-sex marriages accounted for 7.0% of all unions), Norfolk (6.9%), Charlottesville (6.8%), Roanoke (6.7%) and Richmond (6.3%). Conversely, Highland County, Bland County and Manassas Park recorded no same-sex marriages at all.[38]

Public opinion[edit]

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 also found that 55% favored allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, while 35% opposed and 10% had no opinion.[39] The same poll found that 64% of residents from Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria, and Fairfax supported 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 supported same-sex marriage, while only 42% of the rest of Virginia did so.[40]

A July 2011 Public Policy Polling (PPP) 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% being unsure.[41] A December 2011 survey conducted by the same pollster 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% being undecided.[42] A May 2012 PPP 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 considered, 65% of voters favored some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.[43]

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.[44] Another poll by the Washington Post, conducted between April and May 2013, found that 56% of registered voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 33% thought it should be illegal, and 10% had no opinion.[45]

A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting poll conducted in June 2013 found that 55% of Virginians supported same-sex marriage. Among respondents below the age of 30, support was at 71%.[46][47]

A July 2013 Quinnipiac poll found that 50% of Virginians supported same-sex marriage while 43% opposed it.[48]

In an August 2013 Emerson College poll, 38% of Virginians supported same-sex marriage, while 48% opposed it and 14% were undecided.[49]

A September 2013 Marist poll found that 55% of Virginia residents supported same-sex marriage, while 37% opposed it.[50]

An October 2013 poll by Christopher Newport University found that 56% of likely voters opposed the ban on same-sex marriage, compared to 36% who favored it.[51]

A December 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 52% of Virginia residents supported same-sex marriage, while 42% opposed, and 6% didn't know or refused to answer.[52]

A March 2014 Quinnipiac poll found that 50% of Virginians supported same-sex marriage, while 42% opposed it.[53]

According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in 2015 and 2016, respectively, 49% and 57% of Virginia residents supported same-sex marriage.[54][55] By 2017, support of same-sex marriage had increased to 60%, with 32% of respondents being opposed and 8% being unsure or undecided.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b October 6 2014 - Statement of the Attorney General of Virginia
  2. ^ a b "Same-sex marriage now legal in Virginia". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  3. ^ "Mark Warner". Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  4. ^ Reese, Phil (March 26, 2013). "Kaine; two more U.S. Senators back same-sex marriage". The Washington Blade. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  5. ^ "§ 20-45.2. Marriage between persons of same sex". Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  6. ^ "SB 884 Same sex marriages". Code of Virginia Searchable Database. Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  7. ^ SB 884 Same sex marriages.
  8. ^ "HB 751 Marriage; affirmation". Code of Virginia Searchable Database. Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  9. ^ HB 706 General Assembly member; legislative standing to defend laws of the Commonwealth.
  10. ^ "Rare win for LGBTQ Virginians as two equality bills pass full Senate vote". LGBTQ Nation. February 3, 2015.
  11. ^ "Va. Delegate speaks out on discrimination as last two LGBT bills are killed". LGBTQ Nation. February 14, 2015.
  12. ^ "SB 10 Same-sex marriages; civil unions".
  13. ^ a b "Ebbin Trying Again to Codify LGBTQ Rights In Virginia Law". ARLnow. January 5, 2016.
  14. ^ "SB 603 Same-sex marriage; gender-neutral terms".
  15. ^ "HB 414 Same-sex marriage; marriage laws, gender-neutral terms".
  16. ^ HJ 586 Constitutional amendment; marriage may exist only between a man and woman (first reference).
  17. ^ HJ 41 Constitutional amendment (second resolution); marriage.
  18. ^ "Gay Marriage Amendment Passes in Virginia". Fox News. November 7, 2006. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  19. ^ VIRGINIA An Act to provide for the submission to the voters of a proposed amendment to Article I of the 3 Constitution of Virginia by adding a section numbered 15-A, relating to marriage.
  20. ^ "SJ 2 Constitutional amendment marriage; marriage (first reference)".
  21. ^ "Gay couple from Norfolk challenges state's same-sex marriage ban in federal court". Richmond Times Dispatch. July 24, 2013. Retrieved February 5, 2014.
  22. ^ Wolf, Richard (December 13, 2013). "Gay couples seek court case that might reach the Supreme Court". Washington Post. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  23. ^ Perallta, Eyder (January 23, 2014). "Virginia's New Attorney General Will Not Defend Gay-Marriage Ban". NPR. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  24. ^ Michael Muskal (February 4, 2014). "Gay-marriage battle unfolds in Virginia, Utah courts". Los Angeles Times.
  25. ^ Wolf, Richard (February 4, 2014). "Legal fight for gay marriage reaches Virginia court". USA Today. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  26. ^ Snow, Justin (February 13, 2014). "Federal court rules Virginia same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  27. ^ Geidner, Chris (March 10, 2014). "Federal Appeals Court Sets Quick Schedule For Virginia Marriage Appeal". BuzzFeed. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  28. ^ Floyd, Henry F.; Gregory, Roger; Niemeyer, Paul; U.S. Circuit Judges (July 28, 2014). "Opinion, Bostic v. Shaefer, No. 14-1167". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. PACER Document 234.
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  30. ^ "The Two Women Pictured Here Just Made History in Virginia".
  31. ^ "Same-sex couples start marrying in Virginia".
  32. ^ Eilperin, Juliet; Morello, Carol (August 1, 2013). "Federal suit seeks to permit gay marriage in Virginia". Washington Post. Retrieved August 3, 2013.
  33. ^ Lavers, Michael K. (January 9, 2014). "First hearing in Virginia marriage lawsuit scheduled". Washington Blade. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  34. ^ Robertson, Gary (February 1, 2014). "Judge OKs class action status in Virginia for gay marriage lawsuit". Reuters. Retrieved February 5, 2014.
  35. ^ Urbanski, Michael (U.S. District Judge). "Order for Stay, Harris v. Rainey (March 31, 2014)". U.S. District Court, W.D. Va. Case No. 5:13-cv-77. Scribd. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
  36. ^ Jackman, Tom (May 2, 2016). "Va. Supreme Court recognizes unmarried same-sex couples are legal too". The Washington Post.
  37. ^ Graham Moomaw (October 23, 2015). "Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Richmond top list for most gay marriages in Virginia". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  38. ^ "4% of marriages in Virginia have been same-sex unions". WTKR. September 26, 2019.
  39. ^ Washington Post: "Washington Post poll finds Virginians are split on gay marriage; support gay couple adoptions," May 10, 2011, accessed May 10, 2011
  40. ^ "Virginia politics, Northern Virginia style". May 10, 2011. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  41. ^ Public Policy Polling: "Virginia opposes gay marriage, statewide politicians popular," July 29, 2011, accessed July 29, 2011
  42. ^ Public Policy Polling: "Virginia down on Cantor, favors civil unions," December 13, 2011, accessed December 13, 2011
  43. ^ "Virginia Miscellany". Public Policy Polling. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  44. ^ "Washington Post Poll". The Washington Post.
  45. ^ "Virginian's changing views on gay marriage". Washington Post. May 14, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2014.
  46. ^ "New Attitudes in the New Dominion" (PDF). Human Rights Campaign. July 11, 2013.
  47. ^ "Poll: Majority of Va. residents support same-sex marriage". Washington Blade. July 11, 2013.
  48. ^ "Big Gender Gap As Dem Holds Lead In Virginia Gov Race, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Voters Back Same-Sex Marriage 50 - 43 Percent". Quinnipiac. July 18, 2013.
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  51. ^ "Virginia Survey: 2013 Statewide Elections" (PDF). Christopher Newport University. October 16, 2013.
  52. ^ A Shifting Landscape
  53. ^ "Virginia Voters Back Medical Marijuana 6-1, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Young Voters Drive Support For Gay Marriage To 50%". Quinnipiac. March 31, 2014.
  54. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2015".
  55. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2016".
  56. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2017".