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Virginia: Appeals panel strikes down gay marriage ban in a 2-1 ruling

Plaintiffs in the Virginia same-sex marriage case Carol Schall, (2nd R) and Mary Townley (R) make their way down the steps of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a court hearing May 13, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. Three judges from the U.S. 4th Ci
Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Same-sex marriage has scored another victory in the south. On Monday, a federal appeals court in Virginia agreed that the state’s ban against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The ruling was the second one this summer ruling in favor of gay marriage and the third state overall where a panel has ruled on the issue.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond was divided with the swing vote coming in favor of gay men and lesbians having the constitutional right to marry in the state. The 2-1 decision upheld a district judge’s decision delivered in February that initially struck down the voter-approved ban. The case involved two couples seeking to marry in the state and two couples who wanted to have their marriages from another state recognized in the state of Virginia. The ruling was immediately appealed and on Monday the judges presented two sides in a decision favoring same-sex marriage.

Judge Henry Floyd presented his argument in favor of same-sex couples having the right to marry. He 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.”

Judge Roger Gregory joined Floyd in favor of same-sex marriage while Judge Paul Niemeyer expressed his opposition standing behind the definition of traditional marriage. He said, “I do strongly disagree with the assertion that same-sex marriage is subject to the same constitutional protections as the traditional right to marry. I would reverse the district court’s judgment and defer to Virginia’s political choice in defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

Floyd and Niemeyer’s opinions were symbolic of the overall arguments raised by the issue of same-sex marriage throughout the nation. The panel’s decision will not take effect until at least August 18 while circuit clerks decide whether or not to appeal the ruling on a higher level, particularly the Supreme Court. The circuit clerks were left to defend the ban because Virginia’s new Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, refused to defend the ban.

Since the historic Supreme Court ruling that struck down key components of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8,Virginia is one of 18 states that have struck down bans on gay marriage and the third state where a case has been heard by appeals court. So far, no case has been heard by the high court, but rulings in Oklahoma, Utah and now Virginia will be referred to when it is time for those cases to be heard.

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