By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
Several same-sex couples celebrated Valentine’s Day by attempting what remains forbidden fruit for them in Virginia: obtaining a marriage license.
Couples, along with supporters and local religious leaders, rallied for marriage equality outside of the Alexandria City Courthouse on Friday. And they got an unexpected boost thanks to last week’s federal court ruling that the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Organizers like Commonwealth Baptist Church co-pastor Robin Anderson said that the event — organized by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia — keeps the issue of marriage equality in the public eye and shows that local church- and temple-goers also support the cause.
“Let no one use the name of God ever again to divide us,” Anderson said. “Let no one use the name of God to say we are not equal.”
Jason Kaufman, a cantor at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, led the group in singing “America the Beautiful,” “We Shall Overcome” and the national anthem while couples entered the courthouse to apply for marriage licenses — only to be denied.
“Last night our journey for freedom took one joyous leap forward,” Kaufman said, referencing the February 13 federal court ruling. “[We] are every gender: here to be seen, here to be heard and here to be counted.”
Mayor Bill Euille congratulated the crowd on their latest legal victory, although the decision will likely be appealed. Until then, the commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriages will remain in effect.
“It’s a historic ruling,” he said. “Since I’ve been mayor, I must have conducted more than 25 weddings here in Alexandria. And I can’t wait to be the first mayor to conduct a marriage for equality in the state of Virginia.”
Euille was among a litany of local office holders to laud the federal judge’s decision. Attorney General Mark Herring described it as a “victory for the Constitution,” while U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) said it made good on the commonwealth’s tourism slogan that “Virginia is for lovers.”
“It wasn’t long ago that interracial couples were barred from wedding,” Moran said. “This ruling follows the logic that marriage shouldn’t be restricted based on gender, any more than it should be restricted based on a person’s skin color. What matters is the loving commitment two people are willing to make to one another.”
Among the couples seeking marriage licenses outside Alexandria’s courthouse Friday were city residents Caroline Bergmark and Francine Wargo. Bergmark said that until the federal court ruling, the couple figured they wouldn’t be able to wed in Virginia for at least five years.
“We’re very hopeful now,” she said. “We thought maybe in five to 10 years we’d be able to, but now, with that ruling, maybe within three years.”
Bergmark was inspired to take part in the Valentine’s Day event once she heard that attorneys defending the ban brought up how few same-sex couples have applied for marriage licenses in Virginia.
“It struck me that they argued that having equality can’t be a big deal because there were only a few license requests,” she said. “But that’s ridiculous. You don’t go into PetSmart and ask for a tiger; you know they won’t have any.
“So if they need people to show that there is [a demand] for it, we thought, ‘Hey, we can be a part of that.’”