NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — In a federal court ruling echoing decisions reached elsewhere in the U.S., Virginia on Thursday became the first state in the South to overturn a voter-approved prohibition of same-sex marriage.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning that gay couples in Virginia still will not be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Both sides believe the case won't be settled until the Supreme Court decides to hear it or one like it.
The judge's decision makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages.
A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. But that judge did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state. Decisions similar to that of the Virginia judge have been issued in in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.
The office of newly elected Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took the unusual step of not defending the law because it believes the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In her ruling, Wright Allen agreed.
"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. 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," Judge Wright Allen wrote.