It’s official: Gay marriage is legal in Virginia.
“How bizarre to wake up one morning and not know that you’re getting married,” said a beaming Catherine Gillespie moments after marrying her longtime partner, André Hakes, on the steps of the Charlottesville Circuit Courthouse.
They had received their marriage license minutes before from Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger as soon as they got the green light at 1pm, and said their vows before a retired judge and a crowd of cheering friends, supporters, and reporters, with their son, Mason, as ring-bearer. They’re the first same-sex couple to tie the knot in the city, and, quite possibly, the state.
“I’m exuberant,” Gillespie said. “It’s a beautiful and wonderful day.”
Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court announced it was turning away appeals from five states seeking to ban same-sex marriage. One of those appeals was in the case of Bostic v. Schaefer, a suit brought by a gay couple in the Eastern District of Virginia against court officials who refused to marry them. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on that case in July, striking down Virginia’s gay marriage ban in a 2-1 ruling. But legal unions were put on hold when the Supreme Court issued a stay of the ruling pending an appeal. Today, the wait ended, thanks to the justices’ decision not to hear that appeal—or appeals from similar cases in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.
The country’s highest court may yet hear future gay marriage cases, and the outcome of such a case is far from certain; some are hailing today’s non-decision decision a tacit victory, underscoring the fact that there has been no Supreme Court ruling that expressly grants gay couples the right to marry in the U.S.
But in an 11am conference call with reporters from around the country, Ted Olson, lead counsel in the Bostic case, called it an exciting and historic day in Virginia, and one that’s been on the way since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in June of last year, clearing the way for federal recognition of same-sex unions.
Since then, he said, “federal judge after federal judge, district trial judges and appellate judges, have almost uniformly struck down bans on marriage equality.” It’s a legal victory that feels personal, he said. “To see the justices recognize in this way the love of these individuals and the happiness they’re soon going to be able to express—it’s the highlight of my life.”
For Gillespie and Hakes, who were just one of numerous couples who descended on the court for a license Monday, it’s a milestone that came sooner than expected.
“I can remember the time when we had the conversation, that we were quite convinced that people would have to wheel us down the aisle by the time Virginia made this legal,” Gillespie told a pack of reporters in the moments after their ceremony, “so I’m quite pleased to still be able to walk to my own wedding.”
Hakes nodded in agreement as people around them laughed. “It might have been you I told,” she said, turning to her wife, “that I was going to be slurping Jell-O off a tray, but I was going to get married.”
For more about the end of Virginia’s gay marriage ban, pick up Wednesday’s print copy of C-VILLE.