Two Lesbian Couples Challenge Virginia's Marriage Equality Ban

Represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, four lesbian moms are suing the state of Virginia to recognize their marriages and families.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

August 01 2013 12:49 PM ET

Joanne Harris, left, Jabari, and Jessi Duff

Two lesbian couples in Virginia have filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's constitutional and statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and recognizing such unions performed outside of the state. 

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, and Lambda Legal, the case, known as Harris, et. al. v McDonnell, et. al., was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, according to a press release from the ACLU. The suit alleges that the state's ban on marriage equality and refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states results in the state sending a "purposeful message that they view lesbians, gay men, and their children as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage."

The four lead plaintiffs are comprised of two lesbian couples with children, who represent a larger class action suit on behalf of all gay and lesbian Virginians who wish to marry. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd, both 34, have been together for nine years, and married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., according to the ACLU. Berghoff is an Air Force veteran who currently works for the Department of Justice, while her wife Kidd runs a small business from their home, allowing her to serve as a stay-at-home mother to the couple's eight-month-old daughter, Lydia. 

Joanne Harris, 37, and Jessi Duff, 33 are both native Virginians, who met through a mutual friend 11 years ago. Harris serves as the director of diversity at Mary Baldwin College, while Duff works for the state's child protective services systems. They have a four-year-old son named Jabari, who loves his Mommy and Momma DeeDee, but knows his parents aren't legally married like his friends' parents. Pointing to a picture of the couple's 2006 commitment ceremony, Jabari told the ACLU "Mommy and Momma DeeDee got married, and they really need to get married." 

This latest filing marks the third federal challenge to a state ban on marriage equality filed by the ACLU since the Supreme Court issued its landmark rulings invalidating a key section of the so-called defense of marriage act and dismissing California's Proposition 8 on June 26. Earlier this month, the advocacy organization filed federal lawsuits to strike down anti-marriage equality laws in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The Pennsylvania attorney general announced shortly thereafter that she will not defend the state's antigay law in court, because she believes "it to be wholly unconstitutional."

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