A federal judge in Virginia has struck down that state’s voter-approved prohibition on same-sex marriage, declaring it unconstitutional.
"The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia's Marriage Laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia's gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry,” U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen wrote in her ruling.
Wright Allen issued a stay of her order pending appeal, meaning gay couples will still not be allowed to marry in Virginia until the decision is either upheld or struck down by a higher court. The stay was requested by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Herring did not defend the state’s law in court because he, too, believed it likely violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. However, he asked for the stay to avoid a situation similar to that in Utah.
In Utah, recently, another same-sex marriage ban had been declared unconstitutional, prompting thousands of gay couples to take their wedding vows. An emergency stay had to be granted to the state by the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the marriages, leaving the pre-stay marriages in a state of limbo as the decision works its way through the appeals process.
In Virginia, Herring remained optimistic.
"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," Herring, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The ruling has many conservative groups crying foul. Many accused Wright Allen of inflicting her views on the people of Virginia.
"It appears that we have yet another example of an arrogant judge substituting her personal preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. ”Our nation's judicial system has been infected by activist judges, which threaten the stability of our nation and the rule of law.”
Brian Brown, president of the conservative National Organization for Marriage, echoed Perkins’ sentiments.
”This is another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the Constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia," he said. "We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court ends up reversing this terrible decision."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage. Massachusetts became the first in 2004. Virginia is the second state in the south to signal a move towards easing restrictions on gay marriage.
A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states.