Virginia's gay marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional on Monday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond. The ruling is the second time this summer a federal appeals court has struck down a state ban against same-sex marriage.
The court ruled 2-1 that gay men and women have a constitutional right to marry, reports USA Today. In its ruling, the majority said, "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."
Like the first appeals court panel to rule on the issue this summer, the three-judge panel was divided, but the swing judge came down on the side of same-sex marriage. The dissenter, Presiding Judge Paul Niemeyer, wrote in his opinion, "I do strongly disagree with the assertion that same-sex marriage is subject to the same constitutional protections as the traditional right to marry."
The Virginia case involves two couples seeking to marry in the state and two couples who want their marriages from other states recognized. NBC News notes that a total of 19 states now allow gay marriage. Lower courts have ruled against bans in 13 of the remaining 31 states, though those rulings are on hold pending the appeals process.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, will hear arguments next month regarding challenges to bans on same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Monday's decision to rule Virginia's gay marriage ban unconstitutional gives the U.S. Supreme Court a choice. Any appeals will go to the Court, which can choose to hear cases from Utah and Oklahoma, wait for Virginia's to be appealed, or wait even longer for other gay marriage cases scheduled next month, September, and beyond.
Legal experts agree that the high court will likely accept a case for its 2014 term beginning in October or for the 2015 term that follows. The Supreme Court paved the way last summer for what has become a massive string of federal and state court victories for gay marriage supporters. The high court ruled 5-4 that the federal government cannot deny benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Doing so, according to them, would violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.
The high court ruling allowed California to become the 13th state to allow gay marriage. Six other states since then have legalized gay marriage by legislative action or order. More than 70 lawsuits are still pending in all 31 states that still have a gay marriage ban. The Virginia gay marriage ban ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court soon.
[Image by CGCai]