Federal Judge: Virginia’s Gay-Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

By , and | February 14, 2014

Virginia’s ban on gay marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge who said it violated the equal-protection rights of the state’s residents including couples married legally in other states.

The ruling, which won’t take effect until any appeals are resolved, follows a federal judge’s order Wednesday for Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and the Feb. 10 decision by Nevada officials to drop their effort to defend the state’s law banning gay marriage.

“Virginia’s marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry,” U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in Norfolk, Virginia, wrote in Thursday’s ruling. “Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.”

The case is part of a stream of litigation over state gay marriage bans playing out against the backdrop of a June Supreme Court decision invalidating part of a federal law that limited U.S. recognition to marriages made up of one man and one woman.

Allen, who was named to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, ruled in a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples who challenged Virginia’s voter-approved 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Supreme Court

While the Supreme Court stopped short of explicitly saying that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, its opinion in the June case, involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, has been cited by U.S. judges who found that right in Utah and Oklahoma, as well as by a state judge in New Jersey.

“The Supreme Court has not expressly reached the issue of whether state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution,” U.S. District Judge Terence C. Kern in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said in his Jan. 14 decision as he recounted the high court’s expansion of legal protections for gays since 1996. “But this court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.”

The decisions striking down bans in Utah and Oklahoma are on hold while those states pursue appeals.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Feb. 3 sued to overturn Wisconsin’s prohibition. Similar challenges are pending in a federal court in the western Virginia city of Harrisonburg, as well as in Idaho, Florida and Michigan, where a non-jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 25 before U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman in Detroit.

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in 17 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.

The case is Bostic v. McDonnell, 13-cv-00395, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Norfolk).

Editors: Stephen Farr, Andrew Dunn

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