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W.Va. state officials won’t fight gay marriage

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials say they will not move to block same-sex marriages in West Virginia and will seek to resolve a lawsuit to overturn the ban.

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up a challenge to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia. The 4th Circuit also covers West Virginia.

The West Virginia lawsuit filed in October 2013 by Lambda Legal said the Kanawha and Cabell county clerks denied the six adults marriage licenses under the state law, effectively denying them many benefits.

U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington had previously put the West Virginia case on hold pending the outcome of the Virginia case. On Tuesday, Chambers ordered the state and county clerks in Kanawha and Cabell counties to respond by Oct. 21 to a motion by plaintiffs.

The motion filed by attorneys for three same-sex couples asked Chambers to grant their motion for summary judgment based on the outcome of the case in Virginia.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, had intervened in the West Virginia lawsuit in November 2013 on behalf of the state.

In a release Thursday, Morrisey said while he disagrees with the appeals court’s decision, the office would respect the law.

“As the state’s attorney general, it is my duty to defend state laws that have been passed by the state Legislature and are consistent with the Constitution. We have discharged this duty faithfully,” Morrisey said in the release. “In the upcoming days, we will now seek to bring to a close the pending litigation over West Virginia’s marriage laws, consistent with the 4th Circuit’s now-binding decision.”

The attorney general said Thursday his office could not implement the changes alone and would defer to other state agencies when appropriate.

“As we have repeatedly indicated in our court filings, however, others not involved in the litigation will be necessary to actually bring the state into compliance with the 4th Circuit’s decision. Neither the attorney general nor the two named county clerks have the power to change uniform state marriage forms and procedures,” Morrisey said in the release. “Only the State Registrar may alter state marriage forms and the Secretary of State’s Office has authority over marriage celebrants and their ability to solemnize marriages. While we will take steps to seek to end the litigation, the conclusion of the lawsuit cannot and will not alone effectuate the 4th Circuit’s mandate.”

Shortly after the attorney general issued his statement, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin responded with a press release of his own.

“As the attorney general stated today, recent rulings by several federal courts, combined with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this issue, make it clear that laws banning same-sex marriage have been declared unconstitutional,” Tomblin said in the release. “I do not plan to take any actions that would seek to overturn the courts’ decisions. West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible.”

Tomblin urged everyone to not oppose the move.

“Our state is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike,” he said in the release. “I encourage all West Virginians, regardless of their personal beliefs, to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect.”

West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, announced Thursday he will reintroduce legislation to enact anti-discrimination laws for the workplace and housing.

“Every person in West Virginia should be treated fairly and equally,” Kessler said in a press release. “It’s about equal opportunity in West Virginia. It’s not about special rights, it’s about human rights, and it’s time for all of us to understand that we are all created equal. I find it ironic that West Virginians will soon be able to marry but not be able to hold a job due to their sexual orientation.”

Kessler has sponsored and supported the Employment/Housing Non-Discrimination Act, dubbed EHNDA, for several years. The legislation would prohibit discrimination in housing or employment throughout the state based on sexual orientation and was first introduced by Kessler in 2008.

Kessler said Thursday he will re-introduce EHNDA during the upcoming legislative session.

Fairness West Virginia, a Charleston-based group that advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender West Virginians, celebrated the announcement by posting a picture on Facebook and Twitter reading “Love wins: Marriage equality comes to WV.”

“Today’s victory is one for which we’ve fought long and hard. We applaud the plaintiffs in this case for their courage to be the voice and face for countless West Virginians seeking equal treatment under the law,” Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia said. “Today we are celebrating one big step toward achieving full equality.”

Same-sex couples will no longer face financial stress and uncertainty, will be able to protect their families and be the legal parents of children, according to Schneider.

“The fight for (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality in West Virginia is not over. While we savor this victory for marriage, we also look toward the future when every LGBT West Virginian can no longer fear housing or employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “Now is the time to act. Join us as we continue our fight for justice across this great state.”

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