The Commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriages is the latest such law to be declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, clearing the way for a Virginia suit to move on to the Supreme Court.
In a 2-1 decision Monday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that Virginia’s 2006 state constitution amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violated the 14th Amendment. It’s the third appeals-court blow to state gay marriage bans since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act last summer. The ruling applies to similar bans in West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, which are also in the 4th Circuit.
The suit was originally brought by a Norfolk couple, Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who were denied a marriage license by a court clerk, and was expanded to class action status with support from gay rights groups. It gained national attention earlier this year when Attorney General Mark Herring announced his office would not defend the ban in court. A conservative group stepped in to represent the clerks named as defendants in the case, and is seeking a stay of the decision pending further appeal.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Herring supported a stay should there be an appeal.
“Today is a great victory for equality and justice in Virginia,” said Del McWhorter, vice-chair of locally based advocacy group Virginia Organizing, in an e-mail shortly after the ruling. “A major obstacle for families has been overcome because of this decision. While we know this ruling could be appealed, Virginia Organizing is hopeful and confident that marriage equality, including the financial and legal equality that entails, will be realized in the near future.”
James Parrish, executive director of state gay rights organization Equality Virginia, shared the sentiment.
“Today in the Commonwealth of Virginia, love and fairness won,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “A federal appeals court ruled what the majority of Virginians already know—marriage is a fundamental freedom that should not be denied to lesbian and gay couples regardless of what state they call home. While we hope this ruling will not be stayed, we are still one step closer—in Virginia, the south, and America – to recognizing and celebrating equality and the diversity of love, commitment, and family.”