The court granted a stay application filed by opponents of gay
marriage. The action was not a ruling on the merits of gay marriage,
but means that a July 28 pro-gay marriage ruling by the Richmond,
Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will not be
implemented while litigation continues.
The high court issued its brief order less than 24 hours before gay
and lesbian couples in Virginia could have begun applying for
The Supreme Court issued a similar order in January blocking gay
marriage from going ahead in Utah. So the court's order on the
Virginia law was not wholly unexpected.
In light of a string of recent lower court rulings that have struck
down state bans on gay marriage, the Supreme Court is expected to
take up at least one case on the issue in its coming term, which
starts in October and ends in June.
Three cases already are pending at the court that the justices can
choose from, and whichever one they choose would likely be the most
momentous civil rights case in years. The three cases involve fights
over the bans in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.
Michele McQuigg, Prince William County clerk of court, had filed the
Virginia stay application last week, seeking to prevent the appeals
court ruling from going into effect.
"The Supreme Court acted wisely in restraining the lower court from
implementing a ruling of this magnitude before the high court has a
chance to decide the issue," Byron Babione, a lawyer for McQuigg,
said in a statement.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who backs gay
marriage, had argued in favor of the stay.
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He told reporters on Wednesday he recognized that gay and lesbian
couples wanting to get married in the state would be disappointed
with the delay caused by the stay. But he said the Supreme Court
should "definitively answer the constitutional questions about
A landmark court ruling also would prevent the possibility of legal
confusion if gay marriage went ahead, but the state ban was later
upheld by the Supreme Court, Herring said.
David Boies, a lawyer for one of the groups of gay and lesbian
couples that filed the original legal challenge to the Virginia ban,
said in a statement that he is confident the Supreme Court will
ultimately "end the flagrant injustice of segregating Americans
based on sexual orientation."
Since a June 2013 ruling in the United States v. Windsor case struck
down a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one
woman, nearly 30 federal and state courts have ruled against bans on
same-sex marriage at the state level. Only one court in the past 14
months has ruled in favor of a state ban.
Nineteen of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow
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