It comes as no surprise to United Church of Christ activists for LGBT rights that another state ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional in U.S. Federal Court. The latest decision, in Virginia, came late on Thursday, Feb. 13, when a district judge nixed the state ban that prohibited the freedom to marry.
"We applaud Judge [Arenda L. Wright Allen’s] decision in the Virginia marriage equality case," said the Rev. John R. Deckenback, conference minister for the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC. "I fully expect the judge's decision to be affirmed on appeal so that Virginia will truly be for lovers, as the state's promotional motto claims."
The motto Deckenback is referring is Virginia’s travel and tourism motto, "Virginia is for lovers."
Wright Allen heard arguments from attorneys in the case on Feb. 4 and promised a quick ruling, though same-sex marriages will not begin immediately in Virginia since the case is likely headed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a growing trend, three federal judges in the last three months have overturned state bans on same-sex marriage by relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in two cases last summer that went in favor of marriage equality. Judges in Utah and Oklahoma struck down laws in their states in December and January, and both those cases are headed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We see more and more LGBT couples who seek the marry the person they love turning to the courts to hear their plea for justice and fairness," the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy, said. "On the basis of law, this ban and others like it simply do not stand up. I share a blessing with all those who would marry in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma that your time with loved ones be peaceful and prosperous. For those who do not yet enjoy the full freedom to marry, I can only say that I believe the winds of change grow stronger."
The marriage equality movement has spread throughout the Northeast and West Coast, particularly through voter referendums, but the Midwest and the South have been seen as more challenging. But just this week a judge in Kentucky struck down part of that state’s ban allowing the recognition of same-gender marriages performed in other states.
The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a UCC minister and executive director of the campaign for Southern Equality, is hopeful that the recent court rulings demonstrate how unfair the law against same-sex marriage is in North Carolina.
"Week by week it becomes increasingly clear that Amendment One and states’ bans on same-sex marriage are in violation of the U.S. Constitution,’ she said. "It is time for NC Attorney General Cooper to cease his defense of Amendment One, an unjust law that will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional."
There are currently 17 states, (potentially 20 with Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia) that recognize marriage equality in addition to the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
The UCC broke ground on LGBT equality by becoming the first mainline denomination to ordain an openly gay minister, the Rev. Bill Johnson, in 1972. Three decades later the UCC stepped to the front of the issue again, when the denomination became the first church to affirm marriage equality for all people regardless of their gender in 2005.