Suit Challenging Va. Gay Marriage Ban Filed

Thursday, Aug 1, 2013  |  Updated 1:22 PM EDT
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Federal Lawsuit Challenges Va. Gay Marriage Ban

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WASHINGTON - MARCH 09: Rick Imirowicz (L) and his husband Terrance Health hold hands to pose for a videographer after their wedding ceremony at All Souls Unitarian Church on the first day same-sex couples are legal to wed under a new law March 9, 2010 in Washington, DC. The District of Columbia has become the sixth in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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Two couples from the Shenandoah Valley filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging Virginia's same-sex marriage ban.

The ACLU of Virginia and Lambda Legal are representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg. The complaint alleges that Virginia's constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions sanctioned by other states violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.

Plaintiffs Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd say in the lawsuit that they are seeking to represent all same-sex couples in Virginia who want to get married or have already married in other jurisdictions. About three dozen states do not allow same-sex marriage, and Virginia is one of 29 states that have put the ban in their constitutions.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to married gay couples. The justices also left intact a lower court ruling overturning California's gay marriage ban. That decision was based on a legal technicality and did not address the law's constitutionality.

Berghoff, an Air Force veteran, and Kidd were married in the District of Columbia.

``I've been with Victoria for almost a decade now, and it hurts to have our home state say we are not married when it recognizes marriages entered into by different-sex couples who may have only recently met,'' Berghoff said in a written statement.

Harris, the daughter of Bedford County farmers, said ``it hits me in the gut'' that same-sex couples two hours away in D.C. and Maryland can marry, while she and Duff cannot.

Virginia voters approved the same-sex marriage ban 57 percent to 43 percent in 2006.

``Nearly 40 million Americans, including Virginians, have voted to protect the definition of marriage as one man and one woman, and those votes shouldn't be discounted by the courts,'' said Chris Freund, vice president of the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia.

The ACLU has said its goal is to legalize gay marriage in at least 20 states by the end of 2016.

The lawsuit filed Thursday is the second one seeking to overturn Virginia's ban. A Norfolk couple filed a lawsuit in federal court last month.

RELATED COVERAGE ON NBCWashington.com:

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