|Bob Ruloff and Tom Shuttleworth|
I've known Robert Ruloff since 1986 when we were both partners in a Virginia Beach law firm. Career wise, we both left that firm and went our separate ways but have reconnected with Bob's involvement in the lawsuit filed by friends Tim Bostic and Tony London to challenge Virginia's animus based Marshall-Newman Amendment. Indeed, Bob's firm not only spearheaded filing the lawsuit, but has now become a member of HRBOR and will be hosting HRBOR's May Third Thursday. The Virginian Pilot has a profile on Bob and his firm in today's paper. Here are excerpts:
At first glance, you'd likely never see Bob Ruloff as someone who initiated what could become a landmark gay marriage court case.
A West Virginia coal miner's son, Ruloff has spent most of his career working as a real estate attorney, seldom setting foot in a courtroom. But the case he launched on behalf of a Norfolk gay couple challenging Virginia's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage has the potential to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The result could be a decision as momentous for gay unions as the high court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling was for racially integrated schools.
Take a closer look, and Ruloff's key role in the Bostic v. Schaefer case is more understandable.
Ruloff long ago felt an affinity for social causes, but his idealistic impulses yielded to the necessities of making a living.
"I went to law school to be a labor lawyer for the coal miners," Ruloff said recently. "That was my dream. But I ended up being a real estate lawyer so I could make some money."
Now, after four decades of presiding over property closings, he finds himself in the vanguard of a burgeoning national movement for marriage equality. He considers it the pinnacle of his career.
Ruloff, a Virginia Beach resident, had just closed on a sale with real estate agent Tony London. London has been with his partner, Tim Bostic, an assistant professor of English at Old Dominion University, for 25 years.
The two began discussing the implications of two recent Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality - one allowing same-sex marriages to resume in California, the other ordering federal recognition of such unions.
London said the rulings had inspired him and Bostic to consider what they had long thought impossible: getting married. Maybe they would go to Maryland, London said . . . "I don't think you should go to Maryland," Ruloff told him. "You're from Virginia. You should get married here."
"He said, 'Are you serious about that?' " Ruloff recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, but it'll take courage on your part, because a lot of people in the community may criticize you for it.' "
London went home and talked it over with Bostic. Ruloff, meanwhile, discussed it with his law partner Tom Shuttleworth, head of the litigation department at their Virginia Beach firm, Shuttleworth, Ruloff, Swain, Haddad & Morecock. Moved by Ruloff's passion, Shuttleworth agreed to take it on.
Ruloff and Shuttleworth accompanied Bostic and London to the office of Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, where they applied for a marriage license. Employees there turned them down, citing state law and a 2006 constitutional amendment declaring that only a union between a man and a woman can be a valid marriage. Days later, Ruloff and Shuttleworth filed suit in federal court.
Though neither Ruloff nor Shuttleworth is gay, both are quick to say that doesn't matter. Scientific consensus is clear that sexual orientation is determined before birth, Ruloff said, and gays are entitled to the same emotional and material benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy.
"It's sad to go through life and have to not be who you are - to go through life and feel like there's a shadow over you," Ruloff said. "No one should have to live that way."
In February, the plaintiffs won the first round of their legal fight when U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution. The judge delayed implementation of her order pending an appeal now under way in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ruloff thinks the case could make it to the Supreme Court. "Our objective is to finish the job and get a sweeping decision for all states, not just Virginia," he said.
Public acceptance of gay unions is on the rise, Ruloff said, and gays, in turn, are feeling more comfortable about coming out. Since he and Shuttleworth filed the Norfolk lawsuit, several of their firm's other clients have come out to them, he said.
Kudos to Tim and Tony and to Bob and Tom Shuttleworth. Sometimes a few individuals can change society and history. It is long past time that religious belief based on ignorance, fear and hatred toward others cease to have any place in the nation's civil laws.