Virginia is for Lovers: Federal court strikes down state’s same-sex marriage ban

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Valentine's Day arrived early Thursday evening as the U.S. District Court for the District of Norfolk, Virginia struck down the state of Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. Federal judge strikes down Virginia’s gay-marriage ban:

ValentinesA federal judge in Norfolk struck down as unconstitutional Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage Thursday night, saying the country has “arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen issued a sweeping 41-page Opinion and Order (.pdf) that mentioned at length Virginia’s past in denying interracial marriage and quoted Abraham Lincoln. She struck the constitutional amendment Virginia voters approved in 2006 that both bans same-sex marriage and forbids recognition of such unions performed elsewhere.

She stayed her decision pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, meaning same-sex marriages will not be immediately available in the commonwealth.

Wright Allen showed no hesi­ta­tion in overturning the state constitutional amendment, saying none of the reasons proponents offer for denying same-sex marriages make legitimate governmental interests.

“Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships,” Wright Allen wrote. “Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices — choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.”

Wright Allen opened her decision with a quote from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the Virginia case that the Supreme Court used in 1967 to strike down laws banning interracial marriage.

Wright Allen added: “Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

She joined a so-far unanimous group of federal judges considering a question that Supreme Court justices left unanswered in June in their first consideration of gay marriage: Does a state’s traditional role in defining marriage mean it may ban same-sex unions without violating the equal protection and due process rights of gay men and lesbians?

All have answered that the reasoning the court used to strike part of the Defense of Marriage Act– which forbade federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in those states where it is legal–means states cannot defend the marriage bans.

Wright Allen put it this way: “The legitimate purposes proffered by the proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse ‘responsible procreation’—share no rational link with Virginia marriage laws being challenged.”

She added: “The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.”

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Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) scheduled a press conference at noon Friday. And People of Faith for Equality in Virginia hastily planned 12 Valentine’s Day celebrations at courthouses across the state in anticipation of the expanded right to marry.

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The lawsuit was brought on behalf of two Virginia couples. Timothy Bostic and Tony London have lived together for more than 20 years and were denied a marriage license last summer by the Norfolk Circuit Court clerk. Mary Townley and Carol Schall of Chesterfield County were married in California and have a teenage daughter. They want Virginia to recognize their marriage.

Their cause was joined last fall by lawyers Theodore Olson and David Boies, who challenged California’s ban on same-sex marriage and have been leading the charge to have the Supreme Court recognize a fundamental right to marriage that states may not prohibit.

They joined the case in hopes that quick rulings in Virginia courts might get the issue before the high court again.

Another judge in Kentucky this week said that state must recognize same-sex marriage performed in other states.

In addition, the state of Nevada is no longer defending its state same-sex marriage ban before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Gay marriage is making advances in Nevada.

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