The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen in
Norfolk, Virginia, added momentum to growing acceptance of gay
marriage in the United States.
Allen said Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
violated the right to due process and equal protection of the law
under the U.S. Constitution. However, she stayed execution of her
order striking down the ban pending an appeal to the Fourth Circuit
Court of Appeals.
"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," Allen, a judge in the U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, wrote in her
She ordered submission of a proposed final order by March 14.
The decision in Bostic v. Rainey, in which two gay couples sought to
strike down the Virginia ban, follows two high-profile rulings by
the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
The high court paved the way for gay marriage to resume in
California. It also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),
a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married
Federal judges have cited the DOMA ruling in finding gay marriage
bans unconstitutional in Utah and Oklahoma.
Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia recognize gay
marriage, including eight states where it became legal in 2013.
Thirty-three ban same-sex couples from marrying by constitutional
amendment, statute, or both. In Indiana, a vote by state residents
on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was delayed by at
least two years on Thursday.
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The American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the Virginia
case, said Allen's ruling upheld core U.S. principles of equality.
"Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal
freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious
harm. That type of law cannot stand," lead co-counsel Theodore Olson
said in a statement.
Olson was part of the legal team that argued before the U.S. high
court for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.
Also applauding the ruling, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring
said in a statement that it "is the latest step in a journey towards
equality for all Virginians, no matter who they are or whom they
Herring, a Democrat, said last month he would not defend the state's
ban on gay marriage in court.
In 2006, 57 percent of Virginians voted for the constitutional
amendment imposing the ban. But a poll released in October by
Virginia's Christopher Newport University showed that 56 percent of
likely voters opposed the ban, while 36 percent favored it — reflecting the reversal in public opinion.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Ken Wills)
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