Same-sex marriage in West Virginia

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of West Virginia since October 9, 2014. It was previously banned by state statute.

On July 28, 2014, a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic v. Schaefer found Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Bostic allowing the ruling to take effect. As a result, on October 9, 2014, state Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced he was ordering state agencies to act in compliance with the controlling precedent in the Virginia case. Even though West Virginia's ban was not explicitly declared unconstitutional, the Fourth Circuit precedent made it certain the state's statutory ban would be overturned. The state started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on that same day. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia officially ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional on November 7, 2014.

State statutes[edit]

A state statute defines marriage between a man and a woman. In 2009, a bill that would have amended the State Constitution to ban same-sex marriage was overwhelmingly voted down (67-30) by the House of Delegates. All 29 House Republicans voted to move the measure out of committee, along with one Democrat. The amendment was heavily supported by Evangelical groups in the state and the Family Council Policy of West Virginia.[1] In 2010, The Marriage Protection Amendment was re-introduced in both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Republican efforts to discharge the measure from the House Constitutional Revision Committee were defeated (68-30). The amendment was later defeated in the Senate.

In December 2011, Delegate John Doyle introduced a bill to legalize civil unions in West Virginia as one of his last acts before retirement in 2012.[2][3] It was submitted to the House of Delegates in February 2012 and died without a vote.[4]

West Virginia has extended hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples through a designated visitor statute.[5]

McGee v. Cole[edit]

On October 1, 2013, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit, McGee v. Cole, in U.S. District Court on behalf of three same-sex couples and one of their children challenging the state's denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The suit named two county clerks as defendants.[6] On November 21, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey asked the court to allow his office to defend the state's statutes,[7] and on December 19 both he and the clerk asked the court to dismiss part of the suit.[8] On January 30, 2014, the judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, dismissed the part of the suit challenging the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, since none of the plaintiffs had married elsewhere, but he invited the plaintiffs to add plaintiffs that had done so and the plaintiffs said they were considering that.[9]

On June 10, 2014, Judge Chambers ordered a stay of proceedings until a ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer, a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that challenged Virginia's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. The district judge reasoned that "because of the overlap in the issues present" the Virginia case should be decided first.[10] His order paralleled those in two other same-sex marriage cases in the Fourth Circuit's jurisdiction: Harris v. Rainey, another Virginia case, and Bradacs v. Haley, a South Carolina case. Following a decision in Bostic on July 28, the parties in McGee filed competing motions with the District Court on whether to allow the case to proceed.[11] Judge Chambers on September 16 extended the stay pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court.[12] He gave the defendants until October 21 to respond to a motion to rule in the plaintiffs' favor. On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court and the plaintiffs asked the court to rule for them based on that.[13]

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced on October 9 that he would no longer defend the suit since the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to review a similar Virginia case that had found that state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples unconstitutional.[14] Judge Chambers ruled on November 7 that the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional.[15]


On October 9, 2014, West Virginia Governor Ray Tomblin announced he was ordering state agencies to act in compliance with the recent decisions of federal courts on the unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.[16] The state started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on that same day.[13][17]

Marriage statistics[edit]

Year Same-sex marriages Total marriages % same-sex
Female Male Total
2014[18] 187 123 310 12,356 2.5%
2015[19] 355 135 490 12,296 4.0%
Total 542 258 800 24,652 3.2%

Most same-sex marriages were conducted in Cabell County with 155, followed by Kanawha County at 107, Wood County at 61, Monongolia County at 51, Ohio County at 47, and Harrison County at 40.[18][19]

Public opinion[edit]

According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in 2015 and 2016, respectively, 45% and 37% of West Virginia residents supported same-sex marriage.[20][21] In the 2016 poll, West Virginia was one of the only three U.S. states where a majority of residents were opposed to same-sex marriage. The others being Arkansas and Mississippi.

In 2017, 48% of West Virginians supported same-sex marriage, 45% were opposed and 7% were unsure, according to the PRRI.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "West Virginia House Blocks Amendment Attempt". March 31, 2009. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  2. ^ "Jefferson County Delegate Will Not Seek Reelection". WEPM Radio News. December 22, 2011.
  3. ^ "West Virginia Delegate John Doyle Plans Civil Unions Bill". On Top Magazine. December 23, 2011.
  4. ^ "Bill Introduced in W.Va. Would Allow Civil Unions". WSAZ. February 17, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Hospital Visitation Rights" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 8, 2013. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  6. ^ Snow, Justin (October 1, 2013). "West Virginia same-sex couples file lawsuit for marriage rights". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  7. ^ "WV AG to Intervene in Gay Marriage Case". Washington Post. November 22, 2013. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  8. ^ "Federal judge asked to dismiss West Virginia gay marriage suit". Cumberland Times-News. December 19, 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
  9. ^ "Judge allows most of lawsuit challenging W.Va. gay marriage ban to proceed". Daily Journal. January 31, 2014. Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
  10. ^ White, Kate (Staff Writer) (10 June 2014). "W.Va. gay marriage suit to await higher court ruling". The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Lambda Legal Urges Court to End Delay on Marriages in West Virginia". Lambda Legal. July 31, 2014. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  12. ^ Chambers, Robert C., Chief U.S. District Judge (September 16, 2014). "Order, McGee v. Cole, No. 3:13-cv-24068". U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
  13. ^ a b Beck, Erin (October 9, 2014). "DHHR: Same-sex couples can get marriage licenses today". Charleston Gazette. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  14. ^ Raby, John (October 9, 2014). "West Virginia attorney general says state will no longer defend ban on same-sex marriages". Star Tribune. Associated. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  15. ^ Johnson, Curtis (November 7, 2014). "Fed judge declares W.Va. marriage ban unconstitutional". Herald-Dispatch. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
  16. ^ "Governor Tomblin Issues Statement Regarding Same-Sex Marriage in West Virginia". Office of the Governor. October 9, 2014. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  17. ^ "Meet the First Gay Couples to Get Married in West Virginia". West Virginia Public Broadcasting. October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  18. ^ a b "West Virginia Vital Statistics 2014" (PDF). September 2016.
  19. ^ a b "West Virginia Vital Statistics 2015" (PDF). April 2017.
  20. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2015".
  21. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2016".
  22. ^ "PRRI: American Values Atlas 2017".