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Gay Marriage Ruling Brings Chesterfield Family An Early Valentine

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Carol Schall, Mary Townley and their teenage daughter were watching Olympic men’s figure skating in their Chesterfield County home last Thursday night, when the phone rang.

Adam Umhoefer from the American Foundation for Equal Rights was on the line

“He said, ‘Carol, this is Adam. We won!’”

It took Schall a moment — “Won what?”

Then it clicked, she says: “That’s when the screaming and yelling began.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen had struck down Virginia’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Schall and Townley, who have been together for almost 30 years, were plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the ban. Their daughter, Emily Schall-Townley, is 16.

“We are thrilled that because of this decision,” Schall says, “Emily now knows that our family will be treated just like every other family, as Judge Wright Allen quoted Abraham Lincoln, ‘with fairness and fairness only.’”

Allen stayed her decision pending a challenge to Richmond’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The state can’t begin issuing marriage licenses until that hurdle is cleared.

Fifty-seven percent of Virginia’s voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman in 2006, but public opinion has shifted. In a Hampton University poll of 803 likely voters released just before the decision, 46 percent wanted to keep the ban, while 45 percent favored it being overturned. Nine percent were unsure.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who said late last month that he wouldn’t defend the ban in court, hailed the ruling. Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, one of the original sponsors of the same-sex marriage ban, released a 12-bullet-point statement condemning the decision.

Schall, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Townley, the supervisor of transitional programming at the Health Diagnostic Laboratory, have lived in Virginia since 1982. They were legally married in California in 2008, but their marriage isn’t recognized here.

Schall says after the screaming and hugging ended, Emily got to the business of coming up with their wardrobe for last Friday’s news conference. Red was a must. It was, after all, Valentine’s Day.

“We still don’t know what happened to [Evgeni] Plushenko and the rest of the men’s skaters,” Schall says.

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