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Virginia marriage is for all lovers, appeals court rules

  • Article by: Michael Muskal
  • Los Angeles Times
  • July 28, 2014 - 9:01 PM

In a closely watched case, a federal appeals court has ruled that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the second appellate circuit to rule recently on an issue that probably is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision, handed down Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., is the first such ruling from a federal appeals court in the South, generally regarded as more conservative than the rest of the nation. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, although the issue is pending in courts in every state in the country.

The ruling is also the latest in a string of more than two dozen victories by supporters of gay marriage and moves another case up the judicial ladder, a needed step before the issue reaches the Supreme Court.

On June 25, in a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit upheld gay marriage in a Utah case. On July 25, the same three-judge panel issued a similar split ruling in a case from Oklahoma. Both decisions were stayed to allow time for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The ruling in the Utah case marked the first time a federal appeals court has ruled on gay marriage since the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to extend benefits to legally married same-sex couples a year ago.

Supporters of same-sex marriage were jubilant over the Virginia ruling.

“It was in a case out of Virginia that the Supreme Court ended race discrimination in marriage,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group backing gay marriage.

“And today, in another Virginia marriage case, a federal circuit court ruled against discrimination in marriage, affirming the freedom to marry for loving and committed gay couples.”

He added, “The Fourth Circuit’s ruling echoes what over 25 other federal and state courts have held: Same-sex couples deserve the dignity of marriage, and anti-marriage laws are indefensible. Every day of denial is a day of injustice and tangible harms. It’s time for the Supreme Court to bring the country to national resolution and secure the freedom to marry for all.”

In the Virginia case, Timothy Bostic and Tony London were denied a marriage license at Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1, 2013, and they promptly sued, arguing that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage denies gays and lesbians equal protection and rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws,” the judges wrote in the Virginia case.

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