A federal appeals court has struck down Virginia’s ban on marriage equality on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, marking the first such victory in a Southern state.
The 4th US Circuit’s three-judge panel, though divided on the issue, ruled on July 28, “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”
Judges Henry Floyd and Roger Gregory said in their official decision, “The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”
Judge Paul Niemeyer dissented, saying that the courts should not be making such decisions.
The decision will also have an impact on the other states within the court’s jurisdiction, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland—only the last of which has marriage equality, approved by voters in 2012. However, separate rulings would have to be issued to legalize same-sex marriage in those states.
Virginia will also not be seeing any legal same-sex weddings immediately, as the ruling was put on hold for twenty-one days pending requests for a stay or a rehearing. Lambda Legal said in a press release, “If no petition for rehearing is filed and no stay is granted, the decision will become final, and same-sex couples will be able to marry in Virginia beginning August 18.”
Both the state’s governor and attorney general have refused to defend the law in court, but Norfolk circuit clerk George Schaefer III and Prince William circuit clerk Michele McQuigg have chosen to fight for the 2006 ban.
According to CNN, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe announced he was “overjoyed” at the decision. He said in a statement, “This is a historic ruling for our commonwealth, and its effect will affirm once again that Virginia is a state that is open and welcoming to all.”