In what promises to be the court case that will settle the issue of marriage equality once and for all, a federal district court judge heard arguments Tuesday in a challenge to Virginia’s ban on same-sex weddings, promising a speedy ruling.
“You’ll be hearing from me soon,” Judge Arenda Wright Allen said at the conclusion of oral arguments, stressing the word “soon.” Wright Allen was appointed to the bench by President Obama.
The Virginia case is significant because the challenge is being argued by Theodore Olsen and David Boies, the attorneys who were responsible for the successful Supreme Court challenge to California’s Proposition 8 last year. Olsen and Boies have specifically targeted the Virginia challenge as the one to bring to the Supreme Court to force it to make marriage equality the law of the land and not just 17 states.
The state itself argues that the ban should go. Attorney General Mark Herring recently announced that he wanted Virginia to be “on the right side of history,” which was the very argument made in court by Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael.
“We are not going to make the mistakes our predecessors made,” Raphael said, referring to the state’s past defense of segregation and a ban on interracial marriage.
In the absence of the state, defense of the ban fell to attorneys representing clerks from two counties. One of the attorneys, Austin Nimocks of the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, told Wright Allen that “we have marriage laws in society because we have children, not because we have adults.” The other attorney, David Oakley, acknowledged that public opinion may have changed since the ban was passed in 2006, but that it was up to the legislature and voters to remedy it.
By contrast, Olsen argued that the discrimination the ban causes demands court action. “Virginia erects a wall around its gay and lesbian citizens, excluding them from the most important relation in life,” Olson said.
Virginia’s not the only place busy with court activity. The state of Utah has filed its argument appealing a federal court judge striking down its marriage ban. Ironically, the state is depending on just the issue that Olsen and Boies want to address: that the Supreme Court basically allowed states to discriminate if they so wish, or in Utah’s weasel words, “a diversity of outcomes.”
Utah also argues that the religious freedom of opponents of same-sex marriage carry more weight than equality.
“These beliefs are tied not only to theology but also to religious and family practices, deeply and sincerely held personal beliefs, and entire ways of life,” the state said. “They are not less integral to the dignity and identities of millions of Utah citizens than plaintiffs’ sexual orientation is to them.”
And yet another court challenge has been filed against a marriage ban, this time in Wisconsin. Four couples there are suing the state, saying that it’s 2006 ban unfairly prevents them from federal protections.
It’s going to be a busy year for the lawyers.