West Virginia officials on Thursday cleared the way for marriages of same-sex couples after the state’s top law enforcement officer said his office will no longer fight the matter in court.
New marriage license forms should be ready by Tuesday Oct. 14, a state official said.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, announced Thursday he was dropping his fight to defend the state’s man-woman marriage law, passed by lawmakers in 2000.
On Monday, when the Supreme Court denied review of a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned a marriage amendment in Virginia, that ruling became “final and binding on West Virginia,” said Mr. Morrisey.
“While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the 4th Circuit’s opinion to stand and believe it improperly displaces state and local decision-making, we will respect it,” Mr. Morrisey said.
The remarks were a change from Mr. Morrisey’s statements earlier this week that he still wanted to defend the marriage law.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said he had “directed state agencies to take appropriate action” to permit same-sex marriages as soon as possible.
“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,” said Mr. Tomblin.
The governor added that, since West Virginia “is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike,” he asked all people — regardless of their personal beliefs — to “uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect.”
Karen L. Bowling, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said Thursday that all the agency’s bureaus have been prepared “for implementation of this change, regarding forms (both paper and online) and its technology systems.”
“We expect that county clerks across the state will be able to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples by Tuesday, October 14, 2014, at the latest,” said Ms. Bowling.
An agency spokeswoman added that if a same-sex couple shows up at a county clerk’s office before Tuesday, “they won’t be turned away.” Instead, clerks can issue marriage licenses using the old forms.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, who is overseeing the gay-marriage lawsuit, ordered the state and clerks in two counties to respond by Oct. 21 to a motion by plaintiffs. A court employee for Judge Chambers told the Charleston (WV) Gazette Thursday that it was the court’s policy not to talk about pending litigation.
Three same-sex couples, including Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins, filed their lawsuit in October 2013 seeking the right to marry in West Virginia.
“West Virginia’s same-sex couples should be able to marry imminently,” Karen Loewy, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said Thursday.