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Federal Court Strikes Down Virginia Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

Carol Schall says the reason she brought suit against the ban on same-sex marriage was so she and her wife, Mary Townley, won't have to explain that they are different — that they will be just like all the other married couples in Virginia, with equal rights and equal protection.

"Finally, Virginia will see what we've experienced throughout our lives. Together, Mary and I are wives to each other and moms to our daughter," Schall says.

When the couple moved from California to Virginia, their new home state didn't recognize their marriage, and the couple joined forces with two men from Norfolk who were denied a marriage license to challenge the state's ban on gay marriage.

After hearing the case, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled earlier this year 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 her decision, and now a federal court of appeals has upheld her ruling.

"This is a very powerful opinion. It holds that the Virginia marriage laws seriously harms the plaintiffs and seriously harms children," says David Bois, a lawyer with the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

The decision also makes similar prohibitions in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia unconstitutional, but at Equality Virginia, director James Parrish says those states probably won't be issuing marriage licenses yet.

“This ruling goes into effect until 21 days, but in the interim we expect that it will be appealed and then stayed until a review or decision by the Supreme Court," Parrish says.

Based on census data, Parrish says there are about 14,000 gay and lesbian couples in Virginia. It’s legal for them to marry in 19 other states and the District of Columbia.

SSM Ruling by Martin Austermuhle

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