A federal appeals court has struck down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, ruling the state's laws "impermissibly infringe on its citizens' fundamental right to marry."
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled Monday that state constitutional and statutory provisions barring gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions performed in other states violate the U.S. Constitution. The Virginia gay marriage case is one of several that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In February, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia's same-sex marriage ban violates equal protection and due process guarantees. Lawyers for two circuit court clerks whose duties include issuing marriage licenses appealed.
The lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London, two Norfolk men who were denied a marriage license, and by Carol Schall and Mary Townley, two Chesterfield County women whose marriage in California is not recognized by Virginia.
Virginia voters approved the same-sex marriage ban 57 percent to 43 percent in 2006.
But the couples -- and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who supported their case in court -- had claimed a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage in Virginia violates equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.
"These fellow Virginians are asking the Commonwealth to convey to them the same rights and responsibilities that every other couple enjoys," Herring said in a statement issued after the ruling. "They are asking to be treated equally, and if our Constitution guarantees anything, surely it is that."
A three-judge panel randomly selected from the 16-member appeals court heard the arguments from lawyers for both sides.
The Richmond-based 4th Circuit, once widely considered the most conservative appeals court in the country, has become more moderate with the addition of five appointees by President Barack Obama.
"I am overjoyed by the news that, as a result of today’s ruling, Virginia will become a state where two people who love each other can get married regardless of their sexual orientation," said Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a statement. "This is a historic ruling for our Commonwealth, and its effect will affirm once again that Virginia is a state that is open and welcoming to all."
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia also issued a statement, saying in part, "I am so happy that yet another federal court agrees that Virginia's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.... Virginia should be a welcoming place for all, and I am very pleased at the rapid progress toward marriage equality that we're seeing in Virginia and around the country."
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