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Today, a next step toward equality

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Matt Baume, Matt Baume - AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR EQUAL RIGHTS
Timothy Bostic, left, and Tony London.

Timothy Bostic has the kind of stable relationship that America could use more of: He has loved the same person for nearly 25 years.

But because that person is named Tony, he cannot get married in his home state of Virginia.

At 9:30 this morning in a courthouse in Richmond, Bostic and his partner, Tony London, will watch as federal judges hear arguments around why they should or shouldn’t be granted the same constitutional protections as Virginia’s heterosexual citizens. It is the next chapter in the rapid evolution of same-sex marriage, and one that could directly involve North Carolina.

The case challenges Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which voters approved in 2006. Plaintiffs argue that the amendment violates the equal protection and due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution. North Carolina passed a similar constitutional amendment two years ago last week. The case will be heard by a three-judge panel of the fourth circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which also has jurisdiction over both Carolinas.

House Speaker Thom Tillis famously predicted before the 2012 vote that North Carolina’s ban would be overturned within 20 years, even as he supported it. His sense of the political and legal winds was dead-on; it appears his timing was way off.

Federal judges have struck down bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan and Virginia. However the Fourth Circuit rules, the U.S. Supreme Court seems certain to ultimately decide the issue.

Bostic and London aren’t celebrity activists. They are regular people. Bostic is an assistant English professor at Old Dominion University. London is a real estate agent who served in the U.S. Navy. Bostic told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that after this morning’s hearing, “we’ll go home, do the dishes, walk the dog and go about our lives.”

Those lives are ones that Virginia, North Carolina and a shrinking number of states (now 33) treat as second-class. Legally and ethically, it is wrong. The Supreme Court made that clear when it dismantled the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that DOMA was invalid because “no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

The ruling left the decisions up to the states, but Justice Antonin Scalia said, “The view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion.”

America has a long history of changing to more perfectly exemplify the notions of equality the Founders enshrined. The next step in that journey, thankfully, will be taken in Richmond today.

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