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Friday, July 19, 2024

Federal Court Strikes Out Same-Sex Marriage Ban In US State Of Virginia

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A federal judge on Thursday evening declared that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, in the strongest legal reversal yet of restrictive marriage amendments that exist throughout the South.

“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal,” wrote Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Norfolk. “Surely this means all of us.”

The ruling, which overturned a constitutional amendment adopted by Virginia voters in 2006 as well as previous laws, also said that Virginia must respect same-sex marriages that were carried out legally in other states.

But opponents of same-sex marriage have vowed to appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, and Judge Wright Allen stayed the execution of Thursday’s ruling pending the appeal.

This week, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages legally performed in other states, but the ruling did not address Kentucky’s own ban on such marriages.

If the Court of Appeals upholds Thursday’s decision, the repercussions in the South could be wide. Similar amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman would most likely be voided in other states of the Fourth Circuit, including North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. (Maryland, the fifth member, approved same-sex marriage in 2012.)

But many legal experts believe that this case, or another among the dozens now being argued in federal district or appeals courts around the country, will eventually be taken up by the United States Supreme Court.

Last year, as it overturned a part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages from states where it is legal, and a majority of justices agreed that discrimination against gay and lesbian couples was unjustified and stigmatized their children. In another decision, it allowed a reversal of California’s ban on same-sex marriage to stand on technical grounds.

But so far, the justices have not decided the basic issue raised by the new decision in Virginia and similar recent decisions by federal district courts in Utah and Oklahoma: whether any sound constitutional reason exists for a state to deny gay and lesbian couples an equal right to marry.

The challenge to Virginia’s ban was argued by the same bipartisan team of legal stars, Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, that successfully contested California’s ban in 2010. They argued the case on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a private national group.

The plaintiffs in the case are Tim Bostic, an English professor, and Tony London, a real estate agent, who live in Norfolk and have been together for 24 years.

They are joined by Carol Schall, an autism researcher, and Mary Townley, who also works with special needs youth, from Richmond. The two women have been together for 28 years and have a 16-year-old daughter. They married legally in California in 2008, but Virginia refused to recognize that status.

“I am proud to say that today I am equal under the law in my home state of Virginia,” Mr. Bostic said Thursday. “Tony and I just want to get married like everyone else can.”

Ms. Schall said, “For us, marriage is about love and commitment and our family having the recognition and protection other families enjoy.”

The judge often used lofty language in declaring that Virginia’s marriage ban violated the Due Process and Equal Protection provisions of the 14th Amendment. In summing up the decision, she wrote, “We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.”

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