By BROCK VERGAKIS
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A federal judge has ruled that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen's decision Thursday makes Virginia the second state in the South to have a ban on gay marriages overturned. It comes the day after a similar ruling in Kentucky and following similar rulings in federal courts in Utah and Oklahoma.
Wright stayed her decision until an appeals court rules, meaning that gay couples will not be able to marry in the state immediately.
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Statement from Attorney General Mark Herring
Richmond-- Norfolk federal district court Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a landmark opinion tonight at 9 p.m. striking down Virginia's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Judge Wright Allen found that Virginia's ban, which was incorporated in 2006 in the Virginia Constitution, violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She issued a permanent injunction barring Virginia from enforcing the ban but stayed that ruling pending appeal. Similar rulings striking down same-sex-marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma have also been stayed pending appeal.
The 41-page opinion thoroughly evaluated the arguments made for and against the ban. Agreeing with the Attorney General of Virginia, Judge Wright Allen concluded that "strict scrutiny" applies to laws like Virginia's ban that interfere with the fundamental right to marry. She ruled that the arguments offered by the ban's supporters not only failed such "strict scrutiny," but lacked even a "rational basis." The opinion also agreed with the legal analysis used by federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma to strike down the same-sex-marriage bans in those States.
The Court directed the parties to submit a proposed final order by no later than March 14. A prompt appeal is expected to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Following the issuance of the decision, Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the following statement:
"This decision is a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law. It is the latest step in a journey towards equality for all Virginians, no matter who they are or whom they love. But Judge Wright Allen's eloquent decision is only one step in what I suspect will be an extended legal process to definitively answer the questions raised in this case. When we announced the decision to change Virginia's legal position in Bostic v. Rainey, I said that the case presented fundamental questions that need to be decided by a court, and may ultimately need to be decided by the Supreme Court. That remains true today. The legal process will continue to play out in the months to come, but this decision shows that Virginia, like America, is coming to a better place in recognizing that every Virginian deserves to be treated equally and fairly."