Friends, we have had a spell of bad weather which threatened our coming together. As sometimes happens, we have had to hunker down, wait it out – remain scattered and separate – until such a time we could gather and affirm that we more together than we are apart.
Sometimes such conditions that keep us separate, though difficult, are inevitable hurdles. And they are endurable as long as we know such conditions will end.
Today, as the sun shines, we know we are in a brighter place as we stand together.
And today, we stand together all over Virginia: We stand together in
… we stand together.
Our gathering is blessed. We are blessed by the chance to be together. Young and Old. Rich and Poor. Black and White and people of all shapes, sizes and abilities. We gather together as individuals and as families. And our gathering, today, is blessed… blessed by one another, by God, and even by law. We are blessed.
But today, we gather to stand with those who are not so blessed by the law. Today we stand with them as they ask for and wait for such a blessing.
I want to tell you the story of such people.
I want to tell you the story about Timothy Bostic – a Professor of English at Old Dominion – and Tony London – a former US Navy officer – who have committed their lives in love since 1989 and as partners sharing a home for twenty years. For a good number of those years they wished to marry one another. They wished to have their vows of love and commitment ‘blessed’ by this commonwealth. On July 1, this past year, they filed for a marriage license from Norfolk Co. Courthouse. They were denied.
How long will they have to wait. Not long.
I have been privileged to know and learn about the meaning of commitment and the art of marriage from many same sex couples. After working for years in California to win the right of same sex couples to legally marry, I was there in 2008 when Proposition 8 was declared unconstitutional. And when I came here, I announced to the Board of Directors that I would not sign a marriage license for any couple that asked me until the state allowed me to sign marriage licenses for every couple that asked me.
How long will I have to wait to offer that blessing? Not long.
I want to tell you about Carole Schall – a Professor of Education at VCU – and Mary Townley – who works training the disabled for employment. They’ve been in love since 1985 and have shared home and family for over 30 years. For many of those years they wished to marry and have their love ‘blessed by the laws of the land.’ Finally, when California became the 2nd state to license same sex marriage, they went there and were legally wed. They wanted to have their marriage blessed in the commonwealth of Virginia. They were denied.
Why were they denied. Because shortly after Massachusetts began blessing same sex marriages in 2004, Virginia’s fear and prejudice kicked in. That same year they passed the “Affirmation of Marriage Act” which said:
A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.
This was followed up in 2006 when Voters of Virginia ratified an amendment to the constitution which read:
That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth.
Sometimes, friends, we encounter a spell of bad weather which threatens our coming together. Sometimes we have to hunker down. Wait it out. Keep our heads up as we look forward to the day when the blessing we know is ours can be recognized by those blinded by the bad weather of their own prejudice.
“Why?” you might ask, would it so important to have the state offer their blessing when friends, family and God have already given theirs?
In 1998 Ms. Townley gave birth to the couple’s daughter. During the birth, she encountered complications at VCU’s medical center which left her unable to speak. Ms. Schall was denied access to see her partner of 13 years and denied any information about her condition because she was not recognized as her partner under Virginia state law.
Since the birth, Ms. Schall has wanted to adopt her daughter. The state of Virginia prohibits adoption except to couples who are legally married.
In April, 2012, when Ms. Schall and Ms. Townley sough to renew their daughter’s passport – a process that requests the consent of both parents – Ms. Schall wrote her name on the form and a civil servant at a United States Post Office in Virginia told Ms. Schall, “You’re nobody, you don’t matter.”
Ms. Townley and Ms. Schall cannot obtain a birth certificate or marriage license for their daughter which lists both of them as parents.
Ms. Schall cannot have her daughter covered on insurance. Put her daughter in her will. Even legally pick her up from school or write a note of excused absence.
These examples are just the beginning of the more than 1100 federal and state rights, benefits and protections not extended to same sex couples under the law… simply because their union is not so ‘blessed’.
How long will they have to wait for their blessing. Not long.
In July of this past year, Timothy Bostic and Tony London as well as Carole Schall and Mary Townley filed an amici brief stating that Virginia’s laws deny them equal protection and liberties guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
The defendants were Gov. Bob McDonnell, and then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as well as Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George E. Schaefer.
But just a few weeks ago, Ms. Michele McQuigg – County Clerk here at Prince William County Circuit Court was named “Intervenor-Defendant”.
And last night U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued her ruling on the case. I want to read you part of what was written in her decision:
The government’s involvement in defining marriage, and in attaching benefits that accompany the institution, must withstand constitutional scrutiny. Laws that fail that scrutiny must fall despite the depth and legitimacy of the laws’ heritage.
Ultimately, this is consistent with our nation’s traditions of freedom. “The history of Our Constitution … is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded.” Our nation’s uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: “We The people.”
“We the People” have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined. Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when ‘We the People’ becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.
Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending ofour nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”
The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with
Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.
The Court finds Virginia’s Constitutional Art. I, 15-A, and any other Virginia law that ban same-sex marriage or prohibit Virginia’s recognition of lawful same-sex Marriages from other jurisdictions UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!
How long will we have to wait for love to be blessed for all people in this state? Not long.
Friends, we are following the moral arc of the universe which is bending toward justice.
We are following the 18 other states that already offer their blessing of marriage equality. We are following countries all over the globe –
New Zealand and others
… countries who affirm that freedom and love and justice are the hallmarks of enlightened governance.
How long will we have to wait to be blessed by such enlightened leaders? Not long.
In the days to come, as the important conversations occur, and you are called to add the weight of your conscience to tip the scales of enlightenment toward justice, remember that the risks you take now will be the conviction with which you will one day be able to tell your children and grandchildren an important story. A story that says when the world was divided and freedom and justice was being suppressed and LOVE was on trial, you were there – standing on the side of Love.
May our blessing be the legacy for which we become known. So that when the vows of matrimony are spoken in this commonwealth and the final pronouncement made – the gender behind the promises will not invoke protest or prejudice. It will simply be that “We the People” will say together: Amen.