A federal appeals court has struck down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled Monday that state constitutional and statutory provisions prohibiting 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 Supreme Court.
Virginia's same-sex marriage bans "impermissibly infringe on its citizens' fundamental right to marry," Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the court's opinion.
It was not immediately clear if or when the state would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling will go into effect in 21 days unless, as expected, the defendants request a stay.
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.
"Marriage is one of the most fundamental rights — if not the most fundamental right — of all Americans," David Boies, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a release. "This court has affirmed that our plaintiffs — and all gay and lesbian Virginians — no longer have to live as second-class citizens who are harmed and demeaned every day."
Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman. Those rulings are in various stages of appeal.
More than 70 cases have been filed in all 31 states that prohibit same-sex marriage; 19 states and the District of Columbia allow such marriages.
The Virginia lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who were denied a marriage license, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. The women were married in California and wanted their marriage recognized in Virginia, where they are raising a 16-year-old daughter.
Two other couples, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, filed a similar lawsuit in Harrisonburg and were allowed to intervene in the case before the appeals court.
In 2006, Virginians voted 57 percent to 43 percent to approve a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Virginia laws also prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Associated Press