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A.G. intervenes in W.Va. same-sex marriage lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants to intervene in a marriage-equality lawsuit brought last month by three same-sex couples against the county clerks of Kanawha and Cabell counties.

On Oct. 1, the three couples sued County Clerks Vera McCormick and Karen Cole, alleging that, by complying with state law and refusing to issue them marriage licenses, the clerks are unfairly discriminating against same-sex couples, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

West Virginia law bans same-sex marriages and does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The lawsuit says that, by denying the couples marriage licenses, the clerks are denying them benefits such as health insurance, hospital visitation rights, family-leave and tax benefits.

Morrisey filed a motion Friday to intervene in U.S. District Court in Huntington, to defend the constitutionality of West Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

Morrisey's filing reads, in part: "The State intervenes . . . for the sole and limited purpose of defending the constitutionality of the statutes in question."

One of the three statutes that Morrisey references reads: "Every application for a marriage license must contain the following statement: 'Marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man.'"

Morrisey also is defending the West Virginia statute that prohibits recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. The attorney general said it is his duty to defend state law "if it is enacted properly and is consistent with the Constitution.

"Our office is intervening to defend the constitutionality of the West Virginia law that defines marriage," Morrisey said in a written statement. "We will represent the state of West Virginia in this case and discharge our responsibilities faithfully."

Lambda Legal, a national gay rights organization, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three couples: Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins, Justin Murdock and William Glavaris, and Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton.

"I'm tired of the soft discrimination we're met with every day because we can't use the same terminology other couples can," Murdock told the Gazette-Mail in October. "People say, 'Why don't you just go out of state and get married?' We don't want to do that. Will was raised in Logan County. I was raised in Wayne County. We've been in West Virginia our whole lives. We love this state."

Karen Loewy, an attorney with Lambda Legal, said the group had notified Morrisey's office that it was challenging state law and that they expected him to intervene.

"It's par for the course; we were very much expecting that," Loewy said. "We're looking forward to engaging with the A.G. and the clerks and getting down to the substance of the issue -- the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples."

Morrissey had until the end of the month -- 60 days from when the original lawsuit was filed -- to decide if he would intervene.

In late October, a federal judge ruled that both county clerks could wait to respond to the lawsuit until Morrisey decided if he would intervene. Both clerks have said they were complying with state law in denying the marriage licenses.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 16 states. This week, Illinois and Hawaii became the two most recent states to legalize it.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key piece of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that same-sex couples who are legally married are entitled to federal benefits.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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