Posted on September 10, 2019

Couples Were Asked to Tell Their Race for a Virginia Marriage License. Now They’re Suing.

Minyvonne Burke, NBC News, September 7, 2019

Three couples have filed a lawsuit challenging a Virginia requirement that people seeking a marriage license identify their race.


One of the couples, Sophie Rogers and her fiancé, Brandyn Churchill, went to the Rockbridge Circuit Court clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license ahead of their Oct. 19 wedding and was informed that if they do not tell their race, they will not receive their license.

Ashley Ramkishun and her fiancé, Samuel Sarfo, also want to wed in Virginia, where the couple met and where Sarfo has relatives. But they don’t want to be forced to identify their race to get a marriage license, the suit states.

Amelia Spencer and her boyfriend, Kendall Poole, are moving to New York City but hope to return to Virginia to get married “but not if [they] must label [themselves] with a race.”

All three couples have been denied a marriage license after declining to divulge their race, the suit says.

“Plaintiffs deem the requirement of racial labeling to be scientifically baseless, misleading, highly controversial, a matter of opinion, practically useless, offensive to human dignity, an invasion of personal privacy compelling an unwanted public categorization of oneself, and reflective of a racist past,” the lawsuit states.

Virginia is one of eight states that ask couples to identify their race before they can marry, according to the lawsuit. The others include Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana and Minnesota. In New Hampshire a court clerk fills out the information about a couple’s race. Alabama has couples fill out a certificate “that requires a statement of their race,” the lawsuit says.


In Rockbridge County, there was a list of “approved races” that included “Aryan,” “Octoroon,” “Quadroon” and “Mulatto,” the suit states.