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Marriage equality 2014: Federal judge strikes down gay marriage ban in Virginia

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Same-sex couples are celebrating a victory in the state of Virginia. As USA Today reports on Feb. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen has struck down the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.

The ruling follows a growing number of states that have lifted bans on same-sex unions following the historic Supreme Court rulings in June that struck down a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Since DOMA was struck down, many states across the nation were expected to challenge bans on a state level, and that is exactly what is happening.

Wright Allen’s ruling was an early Valentine’s Day gift for same-sex marriage couples in the state, and it was also an expected move. In making a similar ruling to that of Oklahoma and Utah, Wright Allen does expect an appeal. As a result she has blocked the ruling from taking immediate effect, thus delaying gay marriages.

“Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships,” Wright Allen said in the 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.”

This is yet another blow in the Virginia ban passed by voters in 2006 and comes after Attorney General Mark Herring’s declaration that the state would stop defending the ban. He cited his own change in opinion as a primary reason.

But as gay rights group applauded the ruling, the National Organization for Marriage, which defends “traditional marriage”, called Wright Allen’s ruling another example of a judge “twisting the Constitution and the rule of law” to impose personal views of marriage.

Wright Allen states in her opinion that her ruling was inspired by the high court’s ruling back in June and therefore finds the ban “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. Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that endure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.”

The lawsuit was filed in July by two couples. Tim Bostic and Tony London was one couple, and the other couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley was legally married in California, but their marriage isn’t recognized by Virginia. If the ruling is upheld, both couples as well as many others in the state of Virginia will be granted their “choice” to legally wed.