Less than two hours after a federal appeals court denied a request to delay its ruling that Virginia’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger had heard from a score of city couples asking when they could get legally married.
“Between e-mail, my phone, and my cell, I’m up to 20,” she said. “I’m even getting Facebook messages.”
Dugger is one of only a few clerks in the state who has publicly promised to start issuing marriage licenses for gay couples as soon as it’s legal—which could be next Wednesday, August 20. That’s when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue a mandate saying same-sex marriages can go forward in the state. News outlets reported today that the court has denied a request from Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg to stay its July ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer. That ruling declared Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, but the case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 4th Circuit’s decision sparked a flurry of victory e-mails from advocacy groups, but Dugger said it’s not clear yet whether she’ll be signing anybody’s marriage register next week. That’s because the Supreme Court may itself issue a stay, which would block her and Virginia’s other clerks from marrying couples until the case gets resolved at the highest level.
According to Solicitor General of Virginia Stuart Raphael, who called Dugger’s cell while she was talking to reporters this afternoon, the Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that if there’s no stay from the Supreme Court, the 4th Circuit’s mandate will come down next Wednesday and clerks will have the green light. State officials are already “taking steps to revise the marriage forms,” she said, which currently have spaces for names of “bride” and “groom.”
But Dugger noted that couples could end up in limbo should the Supreme Court later intervene after marriage certificates have already been granted. That’s exactly what happened in Utah earlier this year, when some 1,000 gay couples married before a stay in a similar suit was granted by SCOTUS.
Despite that, Dugger said she’d be ready on Wednesday—and that means gay couples in Charlottesville could be among the first in Virginia to legally tie the knot in their own state.
“I can probably issue about 24 in an hour,” she said.