HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins want to live without fear of medical bills.
Justin Murdock and William Glavaris want to fulfill the promise they made to each other last February.
Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton want their 6-year-old son, Drew, to be secure no matter what happens to either of them.
All three couples want marriage equality for same-sex couples in West Virginia, and are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Southern West Virginia. Lambda Legal, a national civil rights organization, announced Tuesday it had filed the suit at a news conference held Tuesday in Huntington.
"Every day that same-sex couples in West Virginia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that they are second-class citizens and their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect," said Beth Littrell, an attorney for Lambda Legal. "West Virginia's state motto, 'Mountaineers are always free,' is hollow until all West Virginians - no matter who they love - have the freedom to marry."
Lambda Legal and its partners, Tinney Law Firm and Jenner and Block, argue that West Virginia's marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and their children, and send a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are second-class citizens, Littrell said.
McGee said when Adkins was diagnosed with diabetes last winter, she felt powerless.
The couple, who had dated for more than three years, ended up in the emergency room last year after Adkins' blood sugar spiked.
They paid out of pocket for her care. McGee, an assistant professor of mathematics at Mountwest Community and Technical College, has health insurance that could cover an emergency room visit; Adkins does not.
"In addition to sitting by her bed, worrying about all the things that can happen when your blood sugar gets that high -- which I found out later includes stroke, coma and possibly death -- I also had to worry about how we were going to pay for this, and that's not fair, either. Sarah's my family," McGee said. "As family, you want to take care of each other, and we just keep running into these roadblocks."
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.
For Michael, 43, and Fenton, 45, of St. Albans, state law means they have been forced to pay for alternate documents to protect their family, but have not been able to secure the same privileges and protections given to married couples. The couple has been together for 16 years, but Fenton is not recognized as Drew's legal parent, and only Michael's name appears on his birth certificate.
"We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for family, but we worry all the time that it isn't enough," said Michael, a lifelong West Virginian. "We need the protection that marriage affords."