Published: Sunday, Sep. 8th, 2019

Tags: marriage-licenses, marriage-law, marriage-equality, officiant-registration-requirements, freedom-of-religion


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Lawsuit Challenges Virginia’s Racist Marriage License Application

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Couples suing Virginia claim that the state’s marriage license application process is "offensive," "unconstitutional" and "reflective of a racist past.” And it’s not hard to see why...


In one county, the list of races that couples can choose from includes "Aryan," "Octoroon," "Quadroon" and "Mulatto.”


If your list includes designations used by slaveowners to designate ensure that mixed race children of slaves and their white owners would stay enslaved (and separate from “pure” white folk) you’ve got a serious problem.


A “mulatto” person is half black (one black parent). A "quadroon" was one quarter black (one black grandparent). An "octoroon" is one eighth black… 


These are the sorts of details slave owners would have an interest in collecting, not county clerks. Seriously, take a few minutes to read the etymology of these words if you aren’t already disgusted…


In 1967, the Supreme Court had to step in to force the state to recognize interracial marriage, and the issue remains contentious according to ministers that we have talked to in the state. Half a century later, it seems that Virginia still has a way to go.


“They're just super outdated and derogatory terms, and it's wrong that a government agency is using them,” one minister in the state told us. “But it makes sense… Lots of churches here still won’t marry interracial couples, which is part of the reason I got ordained in the first place.” 


The United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia, where the lawsuit was filed.


The lawsuit states that, "Plaintiffs deem the requirement of racial labeling to be scientifically baseless, misleading, highly controversial, a matter of opinion, practically useless, offensive to human dignity, an invasion of personal privacy compelling an unwanted public categorization of oneself, and reflective of a racist past.”


We agree, and would add that the state should seize this opportunity to embrace online-ordained ministers as well, since some counties arbitrarily discriminate against our ministers. 


Our Minister Registration page explains that there is “SYSTEMATIC MINISTER DISCRIMINATION IN VIRGINIA”.


Since May 24th, 2010, many County Clerks in Virginia have systematically denied ministers ordained by way of the internet the right to perform marriage. Many clerks cite a letter written by an Opinions Counsel of the Attorney General's Office as justification to refuse the review of applications from ministers ordained online.


While some County Clerks may agree with the opinions expressed within the Opinions Counsel letter, it is not settled case law and as defined by Virginia Code § 2.2-505, it carries no legal weight. County Clerks do not have the authority to judge the validity of your credentials or implement their interpretation of the law.


You can read more about the situation in Virginia here, but suffice it to say that we will be watching this case closely, in hopes that any resolution moves the state towards a more open and inclusive stance on marriage.


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