ACLU suing Virginia over gay marriage ban

People celebrate two weeks ago at the Supreme Court after the court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The ACLU of Virginia said Tuesday that it will file a federal lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, the organization's executive director, made the announcement less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to married gay couples. The justices also left intact a lower court ruling overturning California's gay marriage ban - a decision that was based on a legal technicality and did not address the law's constitutionality.

Gastanaga said lawyers from the ACLU and the gay rights group Lambda Legal will argue that a Virginia constitutional amendment and three underlying statutes violate the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. The amendment and statutes prohibit gay marriage and deny recognition of such marriages sanctioned by other states.

"Thousands of Virginia couples are already living the deep commitment associated with marriage, without legal recognition of their relationships," Gastanaga said in a written statement. "There is no rational reason for denying these loving couples the freedom to marry and every reason to grant them the same recognition by civil authorities that opposite-sex couples have."

She said the lawsuit will be filed within a couple of weeks.

Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, declined to comment because the lawsuit has not been filed. After last month's Supreme Court rulings, Gottstein said that "this office will continue to defend challenges to the constitution and the laws of Virginia."

The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia noted that Virginians voted 57 percent to 43 percent to approve the anti-gay marriage amendment in 2006. Victoria Cobb, the organization's president, said the ACLU "is attempting to subvert the will of the people through marriage redefinition by judicial fiat."

The gay rights group Equality Virginia praised the ACLU and Lambda Legal for taking the matter to court.

"Since the Supreme Court's groundbreaking ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, it remains unclear what exactly the decision means for loving gay and lesbian couples in Virginia," said Equality Virginia's executive director, James Parrish. "We applaud and support the actions of the ACLU and Lambda Legal to help bring all of the benefits, rights, and responsibilities that come with marriage equality to every family in Virginia."

About three dozen states do not allow same-sex marriage, and Virginia is one of 29 states that have put the ban in their constitutions. The ACLU is also filing legal challenges to some of the other state bans as part of its nationwide "Out for Freedom" initiative, which seeks change at the ballot box and in legislatures as well as in the courts.

The ACLU said its goal is to legalize gay marriage in at least 20 states by the end of 2016.