Couples were asked to tell their race for a Virginia marriage license. Now they're suing.

The state's requirement to label race is "scientifically baseless" and "reflective of a racist past," says the federal lawsuit filed by three couples.

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By Minyvonne Burke

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

The suit was filed Thursday in the Eastern District of Virginia and slams the state statute as "offensive," "unconstitutional" and "reflective of a racist past."

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.

Samuel Sarfo and Ashley Ramkishun.Claudia Borges Studios LLC

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.

Brandyn Churchill and Sophie Rogers.Christophe Genty Photography

The plaintiffs also argued that there is no uniformity among counties over racial labels. In Arlington, where two of the couples went to obtain a license, they had to choose from: American Indian/Alaskan Native; African American/Black; Asian; Caucasian; Hispanic/Latino; Pacific Islander or Other.

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

An attorney for the couples who want to marry in Virginia sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam urging him to "do what must be done to get on the right side of history." The letter referred to the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967 in which the Supreme Court struck down Virginia's law — and any laws — banning interracial marriage.

"In order to marry, plaintiffs, like the Lovings 61 years ago, must acquiesce in an unjustified, offensive and unconstitutional intrusion into their private lives, or, regardless of their desire to be married in Virginia, look elsewhere to get married," the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs are seeking "reasonable costs," including for attorney's fees. Rogers and Churchill are also asking that the court prohibit the clerk from denying them a marriage license so they can still get married next month.