A federal appeals court appears to have cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Virginia as early as next week, but opponents have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the decision.
Previously, officials said licenses could be issued starting at 8 a.m. Aug. 21, but that could be put on hold indefinitely if the Supreme Court grants the emergency delay.
Ken Connelly, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, is representing Prince William County Clerk of Court Michele B. McQuigg, who sought to delay the federal appeals court's ruling.
Connelly asked the U.S. Supreme Court for the emergency delay Thursday, which would put gay marriage in the state on hold until the justices decide whether to hear the Virginia case. The court is expected to decide in September.
The request for the emergency delay will go to Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed chief justice by then-President George W. Bush in 2005 and is responsible for the 4th Circuit. He can either consider the request on his own or ask the full court to decide.
Connelly said he expects the stay to be granted, "given that there isn't any substantive difference'' between the Virginia case and a federal case in Utah, in which the Supreme Court has twice granted delays in the state's fight to keep its same-sex marriage ban.
In February, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled Virginia's same-sex marriage ban violates equal protection and due process guarantees.
"Marriage validates the commitment couples make to one another and, if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, achieving marriage equality in Virginia will be a tremendous step forward,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring -- who has said he will not defend the state's ban and believes the courts ruled correctly in striking it down -- released a statement Wednesday following the decision.
"No one anticipated we would be this close this quickly to the day when all Virginians have the right to marry the person they love," Herring said in the statement. "That will be a historic day for our Commonwealth and a joyous day for thousands of loving couples."
Herring asked the Supreme Court last week to review a lower court's decision striking down the state's ban. He also wanted a stay issued until the Supreme Court weighed in to prevent same-sex couples from having to "undo" their marriages should the higher court ultimately uphold the ban.
But the plaintiffs in the Virginia case, along with the ACLU, disagreed.
“We hope that the Supreme Court will leave this ruling in place, so that same-sex couples may begin marrying right away,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Our clients have already waited far too long to exercise their constitutional right to marry, or to have their marriages from other states recognized.”
Similar rulings and subsequent stays have left same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Wisconsin in limbo.
Virginia voters approved the same-sex marriage ban 57 percent to 43 percent in 2006.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.