Virginia AG Makes New Ruling On Marriage Licenses

As race continues to be a hot topic in the United States, one question that has recently arisen concerns whether or not a couple seeking a marriage license should be required to identify their race. In Virginia, Attorney General Mark Herring has recently made a ruling on this matter. Since it has been more than a half-century since the U.S. Supreme Court negated the state’s laws regarding interracial marriages, AG Herring recently made a new interpretation of the statute dealing with this matter.

Due to the state facing the prospects of a federal lawsuit concerning current state law requiring couples seeking marriage licenses to make clear their races, AG Herring has examined the statute and informed staff of impending changes to this procedure. Starting immediately, clerks will still be required to ask a couple about their race. However, should one or both members of the couple refuse to answer, the clerk is no longer allowed to deny the couple their license.

In Herring’s memo to court clerks, he stated that based on his conclusions about state law court clerks are not required to deny a marriage license based on an applicant choosing to answer or not answer the question. To ensure this process is now carried out according to his interpretation of the statute, court clerks have been given new marriage license forms that include a section titled “Declined to Answer” regarding questions of race.

These changes, which have been brought about by a federal lawsuit filed by civil rights lawyer Victor Glasberg on behalf of three couples challenging Virginia’s law, essentially put an end to the state’s Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924. This act, which was originally referred to as “An Act to Preserve the Integrity of the White Race,” is now viewed by AG Herring and others as a state law that was grounded in prejudice and ignorance.

Moving forward, AG Herring felt that rather than put the state through the litigation process of a federal lawsuit that the state would likely lose, it was in the best interest of everyone involved to reexamine the current statute. Commenting on the current changes taking place in society today, Herring noted “no Virginian will be forced to label themselves in order to be married.” In getting the issue resolved as quickly as possible, Herring made it clear the state is determined to move forward and adapt to societal changes.

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