Federal court declares Virginia gay marriage ban unconstitutional

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A federal judge has ruled against Virginia's anti-gay marriage amendment.

A federal judge in Virginia on Feb. 13 ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“Yet another court has upheld the fundamental idea that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to full equality under the law," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Nearly fifty years ago, another Virginia case struck down bans on interracial marriage across the country, and now this commonwealth brings renewed hope for an end to irrational barriers to marriage for loving and committed couples across the country."

The judge said Virginia’s laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying — including a provision in the Virginia Constitution that prohibits marriage equality in the state — violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The court has upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded,” said attorney Theodore B. Olson. “Virginia’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status. Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”

Olson and attorney David Boies are with the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization the sponsored Bostic v. Rainey, the lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Virginia. They also were the attorneys in the Proposition 8 case.

In November 2006, Virginia voters amended the state constitution to define marriage as solely between one man and one woman and ban recognition of any legal status “approximat[ing] the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage” for gays and lesbians. Pre-existing laws also banned same-sex marriage in Virginia.

AFER executive director Adam Umhoefer said, “The court’s decision is clear: where you live should not determine who you can marry. Everyone—in Virginia and every other state—should have the freedom to dedicate their life to the person they love, and every state should recognize that right equally among all Americans.  Today’s victory gets us one step closer to making that a reality.”

The Plaintiffs in the case are Tim Bostic, an English professor, and Tony London, a real estate agent, who live in Norfolk and have been together for 24 years. They are joined by Carol Schall, an autism researcher, and Mary Townley, who also works with special needs youth, from Richmond.

“I am proud to say that today I am equal under the law in my home state of Virginia,” said Bostic. “Tony and I just want to get married like everyone else can.  Today’s decision gets us one step closer to making that dream a reality.”

“Mary and I have raised a beautiful daughter, own a home, and have careers that allow us to be a part of our community on many levels,” added Schall. “For us, marriage is about love and commitment and our family having the recognition and protection other families enjoy.  Today’s decision makes us incredibly proud of our state and our country.”

The judge, in the ruling, issued a stay pending an appeal.

It's not clear what will happen next, because the state's attorney general decided not to defend the anti-gay amendment.