- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 7, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia’s governor signed an order directing state agencies to accommodate same-sex marriages Tuesday as an initial flurry of such unions subsided.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe already had signed an executive order prohibiting state workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. His new order builds on that by allowing gay and lesbian state employees to add spouses and dependents to their state health insurance plan.

“My administration will act quickly to continue to bring all of our policies and practices into compliance so that we can give married same-sex couples the full array of benefits they deserve,” McAuliffe wrote in the executive order, which is effective immediately.

Sara R. Wilson, director of the state Department of Human Resource Management, sent an email to state employees advising them they have 60 days from the date of their marriage to add their spouse or children to their health insurance.

The Virginia Department of Taxation also published a bulletin Tuesday stating that same-sex couples in Virginia who were legally married in any state can now file state tax returns as married couples, either jointly or individually.

The Democratic governor’s executive order came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court ruling in July striking down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the order implementing its ruling, clearing the way for circuit court clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples at 1 p.m. Monday.

News of the historic development prompted a rush to Virginia courthouses by same-sex couples who received their long-awaited marriage licenses and, in many cases, promptly tied the knot. The Rev. Hilary Smith of Church of the Holy Comforter, an Episcopal church in Richmond, was at lunch when she received a text message about the justices’ decision and its effect. She raced to the courthouse to offer her services to any same-sex couples who wanted to get married on the spot. Five couples accepted.

“What struck me about it was how joyful it was - the smiles on the couple’s faces and the tears in their eyes,” Smith said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Rev. Robin Gorsline, president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, officiated at two weddings, including that of the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Richmond. The legal machinery clearing the way for marriages to actually begin “has moved faster than we thought,” Gorsline said, but he wasn’t surprised that so many couples exchanged vows as soon as possible.

The pace slowed on Tuesday, however. Neither Gorsline nor Smith had conducted any more weddings by midday Tuesday, and Richmond Circuit Court Clerk Edward Jewett said his office had issued only two licenses to same-sex couples by late morning after issuing nine the previous afternoon.

Gorsline said that while Monday’s developments are cause for celebration, work remains for clergy who support same-sex marriage.

“Our job as faith leaders is not only to reach out to lesbian and gay couples, but also to reach out to clergy and congregations who are struggling with the change,” he said. “There’s still a lot of social change to come.”

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