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National gay rights group to file W.Va. lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A national gay and lesbian civil rights organization will file a federal lawsuit in West Virginia on Tuesday.

Lambda Legal will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. in Huntington to announce the lawsuit, according to a release from the firm. The group was among those who filed a lawsuit in Virginia in August challenging that state's ban on gay and lesbian marriage.

A spokesman for Lambda Legal wouldn't release details of the West Virginia lawsuit on Monday. According to the group's website, it has been working with Fairness West Virginia, a gay rights group, "to find a way for all same-sex couples and their families in the Mountain State to get equal legal treatment and protections."

Casey Willits, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, would only confirm Monday that Fairness has been working with Lambda.

"We've been working with them and looking at issues this summer regarding West Virginia and how it fits into federal legal precedent," Willits said.

Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said Monday he wanted to wait until after a press conference to comment, but told the Gazette, "I think we may be hearing about an important lawsuit on the Constitution." Skinner, a Martinsburg attorney, is the first openly gay member of the state Legislature.

The Virginia lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by a couple from Staunton, Va., who argues that Virginia's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union was among the groups that filed the Virginia lawsuit. Sarah Rogers, attorney for the West Virginia ACLU, didn't know about the planned West Virginia lawsuit.

"We are not involved, but obviously Lambda and Fairness are allies of ours so we support any of their efforts," Rogers said.

In June, in a 5-4 decision, U.S. Supreme Court justices struck down a key piece of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that a provision that denied benefits to legally married gay couples is unconstitutional.

Also, in another 5-4 decision, the court cleared the way for gay marriage to resume in California by ruling that supporters of Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban, didn't have legal standing to challenge a lower court that overturned the law.

West Virginia doesn't recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. Also, the state's Human Rights Act doesn't include sexual orientation as one of the protected categories from housing and employment discrimination. State lawmakers have rejected several recent attempts to include gays and lesbians in the state's discrimination laws.

The press conference Tuesday will be held at the Holiday Inn in Huntington. Attorneys filing the lawsuit and their clients will attend, according to Lambda's release.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

 

 


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