A federal judge in Virginia late Thursday struck down the state law banning same-sex marriage, saying the prohibition marks a “profound government interference into one of the most personal choices a person makes.”
The judge, Arenda Wright Allen of Norfolk federal district court, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, declared the restriction against gay marriage unconstitutional and issued an injunction against it.
Allen, however, stayed enforcement of her ruling pending review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Another federal appeals court, the Tenth Circuit, will soon assess the lawfulness of same-sex marriage bans in Utah and in Oklahoma. Federal trial judges in those states struck down the restrictions.
“Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships,” Allen wrote in her 41-page ruling. “Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.”
The Virginia challengers, including Timothy Bostic and Troy London, who have been in a long-term relationship since 1989, “ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia’s adult citizens,” Allen said.
In January, lawyers for Virginia abandoned their defense of the state ban, concluding it violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Virginia voters in 2006 approved an amendment to the state Constitution that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday night heralded Allen’s ruling, calling it a “victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law.”
Herring said the case “presented fundamental questions” that could ultimately be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court. “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,” he said.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a written statement Allen’s decision “upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded. Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm.”
Contact Mike Scarcella at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @MikeScarcella.