DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine Day's Tale of Law and Love

Janice Canterbury and Nadia Malley  
The 3 couples stood off to the side, alternately smiling at each other and fidgeting, as couples having been doing since the very first I-do ceremonies. The ministers were in place, ready to do their duty. Cameras were out and held in the best positions to capture the special moments. The crowd of well-wishers and supporters edged closer, intent on catching every word on this crisp Valentine Day's morning.

There was only one more step, a mere formality for most couples seeking to be married at the Arlington County Courthouse. Under Virginia law, the couples would have to present their completed  marriage license forms to the county clerk for certification.

"Today (Valentine's Day) is a great day for people that want to get married to tell their stories and I look forward to hearing your stories today," intoned Clerk Paul Ferguson in the kindliest tone imaginable. "Unfortunately, the laws of Virginia do not allow Virginia circuit courts to grant marriage licenses to same-sex applicants. So, if that is part of your story, I will have to deny the application."

And indeed being a same sex couple seeking the right to marry was the biggest part of the story for Janice Canterbury and Nadia Malley of Arlington, as it was for the other 2 gay couples, who were also denied their ceremony under Virginia law.

With tape recorders and TV cameras rolling, Canterbury explained why she and Malley were taking part  in the Witness for Marriage Demonstration organized by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and Equality Virginia.

"My partner and I have been together and lived in the same house here in Arlington for over 14 years," Canterbury said. "Our commitment to each other has withstood cancer, death of parents and pets, a house fire and a renovation, and an increase in our property taxes. And through it all, we have loved and cared for each other."

"We are out and open to everyone, with colleagues at work, our friends, our family and our neighbors. They all support us and were so excited about us taking a stand this day," Canterbury added.

"I know that Nadia and I will be together with or without a marriage because we love each other. We actually met over 25 years ago when we were volunteering at the Whitman Walker Clinic and helping counsel young gays and lesbians struggling with being accepted and accepting themselves. We know, all too well, the importance of having a recognized ritual within a community that honors and upholds our rights. We know we have love, but only a legal marriage can give us dignity as a valued couple and declare that we are, in fact, equal citizens under the law," she concluded.

After the rally, Canterbury and Malley were approached by members of the media for further comment. They said they were "cautiously optimistic" that the Virginia ban against gay marriage would be overturned. Asked by one reporter if they were aware of how politically complicated it is to get such a controversial law changed, Canterbury responded, "I understand it's complicated, but it's far more complicated for a couple who are gay or lesbian. We want to stand  up for our love and our rights"

"I don't think people fully understand," Malley said. "I have a pre-existing (medical) condition and I'm unable to get insurance. It's about love, but it's a real economic issue, too."

But even given the seriousness of the cause on this day of denial, Canterbury and Malley were still able to look on the light side of their rejection. They said the most difficult part of the process had been filling out the place on the marriage application that required an identification of the husband and wife. So how did they decide? "We flipped a coin," Canterbury said with a laugh.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The ministers make their banner their message
Before the 3 couples presented their certificates, several ministers supporting gay marriage addressed the rally. Although each spoke individually, the collective message went something like this. God is about love. God is about commitment. Marriage is about love and commitment, so therefore God approves regardless of the sex of those seeking to wed. "It is way past time to change the law," said David Ensign, pastor at the Clarendon Presbyterian Church, who thanked the 3 couples for "being brave enough to step forward and risk the pain of hearing no when asking for what, by right, should be yours for the asking." In his remarks, Rev. Carlton Smith of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington cited the U. S. Supreme Court's decision in 1967 that overturned Virginia's ban on marriage between members of different races. "We don't want Virginia on the back of the bus again," Smith said.

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