NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Virginia has become the first state in the South to have its same-sex marriage ban overturned, with a late-night federal court ruling that declared the voter-approved amendment unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen on Thursday issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning that gay couples in Virginia still won't be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Both sides believe the case won't be settled until the Supreme Court decides to hear it or one like it.
Allen's decision echoes recent rulings elsewhere in the U.S. and is the strongest foothold yet in the South for the gay-marriage movement. On Wednesday, a judge declared that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, but didn't rule on the constitutionality of whether such marriages can be performed in the state. Decisions similar to that of the Virginia judge have been issued in in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.
The office of newly elected Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took the unusual step of not defending the law because it believes the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In her ruling, Wright Allen agreed.
"The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia's Marriage Laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia's gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry. Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country's cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family," Wright Allen wrote.
The plaintiffs' lead co-counsel, Theodore B. Olson, said in a statement: "Through its decision today, the court has upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded."