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West Virginia gay-marriage ban "officially" dead

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia – Although West Virginia’s Attorney General had already conceded that the state’s marriage ban was unconstitutional and marriages began last month, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia made it official today.

The court ruled in favor of Lambda Legal’s plaintiffs and striking down the discriminatory marriage ban as mandated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier ruling striking down a similar ban in Virginia.

In the opinion, Judge Chambers also offered a critique of yesterday’s ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in DeBoer v. Snyder, which upheld marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky, stating that the Sixth Circuit “fail[ed] to recognize the role of courts in the democratic process. It is the duty of the judiciary to examine government action through the lens of the Constitution’s protection of individual freedom. Courts cannot avoid or deny this duty just because it arises during the contentious public debate that often accompanies the evolution of policy making throughout the states. Judges may not simultaneously find a right violated yet defer to an uncertain future remedy voluntarily undertaken by the violators.”

"We are grateful to Judge Chambers for this ruling that officially puts an end to the long fight for marriage equality for West Virginia’s same-sex couples and their families. This decision clears away the last obstacle to marriage equality in the state,” said Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney. “Even though the Fourth Circuit’s decision had already cleared a path for West Virginia to issue marriage licenses, this is still a great day for equality. The state is indeed stronger today after the Court’s ruling confirming that all loving West Virginia couples and their families now have equal access to the privileges and protections of marriage.”

Lambda Legal filed this lawsuit in October 2013 on behalf of three same-sex couples and the child of one couple, arguing that West Virginia’s marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and sends a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that different-sex couples and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

The plaintiffs include: Nancy Michael, 45, and Jane Fenton, 43, together for 16 years, and their six-year-old son, Drew; Casie McGee, 30, and Sarah Adkins 32, together for more than three years; and Justin Murdock, 32, and William Glavaris, 31, together for more than two years.

Lambda Legal attorneys Karen Loewy, Beth Littrell and Camilla Taylor are handling the case, joined by West Virginia co-counsel Jack Tinney and Heather Foster Kittredge of Tinney Law Firm, PLLC, and cooperating attorneys Paul Smith, Lindsay Harrison and Nick Tarasen of Jenner & Block.

The case is McGee et. al. v. Cole et. al.