A federal judge overturned Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban Feb. 13, and declared it unconstitutional as the South’s most powerful legal reversal of restrictive marriage rights to date.
“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men are created equal,’” wrote U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Norfolk, according to The New York Times. “Surely this means all of us.”
With this ruling, Virginia will also have to honor same-sex marriages that were performed legally in other states.
“Right now in the state of Virginia, there are married couples who are legally married in the eyes of the federal government, but not legally married in the eyes of the state,” said Ted Lewis, associate director of Common Ground for LGBTQ Campus Life. “This complicates their relationship in terms of access to benefits…raising children together and more.”
Opponents of the ruling have vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond. Allen stayed the execution of the ruling pending the appeal, meaning that the judicial proceeding was temporarily stopped.
“Staying the order pending appeal was a very sensible, prudent thing to do in the court of law,” said John Pagan, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “It will save the period of uncertainty that some states have had where the ruling is passed and people marry, and then it is appealed.”
According to The New York Times, many legal experts believe that this case will eventually reach the Supreme Court, which overruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act just last year. But as of now, the justices have not answered whether there is any sound constitutional reason for same-sex marriage rights to be denied by a state.
Allen cited the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, which overturned laws banning interracial marriage, as well as the Supreme Court’s recent DOMA case.
“I think it’s important to remember that Virginia actually played a huge role in defining marriage differently in the 1960s…and now potentially again,” Lewis said. “So historically, this is an interesting moment where Virginia again is going to potentially be the state that changes the laws nationwide.”
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