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Lesbians seek class action against Virginia gay-marriage ban

By Gary Robertson

HARRISONBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Lawyers for two lesbian couples suing the state of Virginia in an effort to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage on Tuesday asked the federal judge hearing the case to certify it as a class action representing all gay couples in the state.

The suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal claims Virginia's 2006 ban on gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions in other states violates the U.S. Constitution.

Fourteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia now recognize marriage between same-sex couples with several, most recently New Jersey, dropping their prior bans after the U.S. Supreme Court in June delivered a landmark victory for gay rights by forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.

"Tens of thousands of (gay) couples in Virginia would marry, if they had the opportunity to," said attorney Luke Platzer, on behalf of plaintiffs Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton as well as Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester.

Virginia Solicitor General E. Duncan Getchell Jr. said there was no way to specifically identify the class the suit wanted to represent. He said same-sex couples were not "ascertainable" from U.S. Census data.

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski said he would weigh what he had heard in more than two hours of arguments before issuing an opinion on the bid brought by the Shenandoah Valley couples.

A 2006 referendum approved Virginia's constitutional ban. A poll released this month by Virginia's Christopher Newport University showed that 56 percent of likely voters now oppose the ban, compared with 36 percent who favor it.

Berghoff and Kidd were married in the District of Columbia in 2011 and Duff and Harris had a commitment ceremony in 2006. Both couples are raising children.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Andrew Hay)

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