CHARLESTON – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says his office will respect the decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding a lawsuit challenging the state's marriage laws.
In a statement released Thursday, Morrisey said his office disagrees with the decision earlier this week by the U.S. Supreme Court to not take up a Fourth Circuit ruling to set aside Virginia's law regarding same-sex marriage.
“By refusing to consider the appeal, the Supreme Court has caused the Appeals Court's decision to become final and binding on West Virginia," Morrisey said. "While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Fourth Circuit’s opinion to stand and believe it improperly displaces state and local decision-making, we will respect it."
Morrisey said his office now will seek to close the pending litigation regarding West Virginia's marriage laws to be consistent with the Fourth Circuit "now-binding decision."
“As the state’s Attorney General, it is my duty to defend state laws that have been passed by the state Legislature and are consistent with the Constitution," he said. "We have discharged this duty faithfully."
“As we have repeatedly indicated in our court filings, however, others not involved in the litigation will be necessary to actually bring the state into compliance with the Fourth Circuit’s decision," Morrisey said in his statement. "Neither the Attorney General nor the two named county clerks have the power to change uniform state marriage forms and procedures.
"Only the State Registrar may alter state marriage forms, and the Secretary of State’s Office has authority over marriage celebrants and their ability to solemnize marriages. While we will take steps to seek to end the litigation, the conclusion of the lawsuit cannot and will not alone effectuate the Fourth Circuit’s mandate.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also issued a similar statement.
"As the attorney general stated today, recent rulings by several federal courts, combined with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this issue, make it clear that laws banning same-sex marriage have been declared unconstitutional," Tomblin said in his statement. "I do not plan to take any actions that would seek to overturn the courts' decisions.
"West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings, and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible.
"Our state is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike. I encourage all West Virginians – regardless of their personal beliefs – to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect."
On July 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit – which includes West Virginia – affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry, declaring that banning same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. The decision affirmed the Feb. 13 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in Bostic v. Schaefer, where same-sex couples sought the freedom to marry and respect for their marriages legally performed in other states.
On Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of this case, meaning that same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry in Virginia. That ruling carries over and means same-sex couples soon will have the freedom to marry in West Virginia as well.
U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers previously had put West Virginia's case on hold. But this week, he ordered the state and clerks in Kanawha and Cabell counties to respond to a motion by plaintiffs by Oct. 21. The motion filed by attorneys for three same-sex couples asked Chambers to grant their motion for summary judgment based on the outcome of the case in Virginia.
On Thursday afternoon, Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole said her office would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately. Kanawha County followed suit. At least one same-sex marriage took place at the Cabell County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon.