For Immediate Release - April 18, 2014

AG Coakley Urges Federal Appeals Court to Strike Down Bans on Same-Sex Marriage

Leads Filing of Multi-State Amicus Brief Arguing that Marriage Bans in Virginia Violate the 14th Amendment

BOSTON – Arguing that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Virginia are unconstitutional, Attorney General Martha Coakley today led a coalition of states in filing a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

“Our experience in Massachusetts shows that opening the institution of marriage to gay and lesbian couples strengthens our communities and our state,” AG Coakley said.  “As long as there are discriminatory laws on the books that deprive same-sex couples of their fundamental rights, we will continue to urge courts to strike them down.”

AG Coakley led the filing of the amicus brief on behalf of Massachusetts and 12 other states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.

State laws in Virginia do not provide any rights or protections for same-sex couples, and do not permit the recognition of same-sex marriages licensed by other states. The brief argues that, by withholding the rights and protections associated with marriage, these laws relegate gay and lesbian individuals, as well as their families, to second-class status.

AG Coakley’s brief also highlights the experiences of Massachusetts and other states that have ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. Relying on data regarding marriage rates, divorce rates, and nonmarital birth rates, the brief refutes speculation offered by the proponents of restrictive marriage laws regarding the supposed negative effects of allowing same-sex couples to marry. The brief also argues that these restrictive laws actually harm families by denying the legal and social benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and their children. The brief urges the court reject the asserted interest in preserving history and tradition as a defense to an unconstitutional law.  

The brief further argues that states “establish policies that encourage individuals to get and stay married because they recognize that marriage provides stability for families, households, and the broader community; that children are better off when they are raised by loving, committed parents; and that state resources are preserved when spouses provide for each other and their children.” 

Today’s amicus brief was filed in connection with three related cases challenging the ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia: Bostic, et al. v. Schaefer, et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Since the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in United States v. Windsor last June, AG Coakley has continued to lead the states’ effort in support of gay and lesbian couples. On Oct. 25, 2013, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in cases challenging Hawaii’s and Nevada’s bans on same-sex marriage. On Mar. 4, 2014, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in cases challenging Oklahoma’s and Utah’s bans on same-sex marriage. Those cases are still pending before the Courts of Appeals. 

This matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant Attorneys General Genevieve Nadeau and Michelle Leung of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

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