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Virginia same-sex marriage debate has its day in court

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According to CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Tuesday in the Norfolk case, Bostic v. Schaefer in an appeal of the federal district court decision which struck down the 2006 Virginia Marriage Amendment.

The three judge panel, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, Judge Roger L. Gregory, and Judge Henry F. Floyd heard arguments from lawyers representing parties on both sides on the case. The one hour hearing was interrupted over 40 times.

Niemeyer, a George W. Bush appointee was quick to question the rationale behind attorney Ted Olsen's reasoning, saying allowing same-sex marriages would lead to "fathers marrying their daughters." He added, “I’m not aware of any person created without a man and a woman.”

St. George said judge Roger L. Gregory appeared to be the most combative, especially with the lawyers backing traditional marriages, asking why prisoners couldn't be allowed to marry gay people. Gregory also said it was wrong to not allow gay and lesbian couples the chance to be effective parents, pointing out it "rips" a bond being formed.

Olsen, who is an attorney for the plaintiffs, spoke with reporters after the hearing, and said it was normal for judges to ask lots of questions in a case like this. He also wasn't sure when a ruling could be expected.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said earlier this year he would not defend Virginia's law that prevented marriages between people of the same sex. He said on Tuesday he believed the court would rule Virginia's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.

“Nothing that was said in the courtroom today alters the basic incompatibility of this discriminatory ban with the protections guaranteed by the Constitution,” Herring (D – Virginia) said following the hearing. “Every single federal court that has considered the question since last summer’s ‘Windsor decision has reached the same conclusion.”

Even though lawyers on both sides of the case were succinct in arguing their case, the judges on the case hinted several times the case was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both sides of the street outside the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in downtown Richmond were lined with hundreds of supporters for both sides of the same-sex marriage issue. The rallies were generally peaceful, with supporters for each side of the issue staying on their chosen side of the street.

The event that has brought the debate on same-sex marriage stems from the ruling of a federal judge in Norfolk who ruled on February 13, one day before Valentine's Day, the amendment was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen stayed her ruling while the case is appealed. This means gay couples in Virginia still can't legally marry.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London were not allowed to get a marriage license at the Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1, 2013. They filed a lawsuit, claiming gays and lesbians are being denied equal protection and liberties as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

As of Monday, according to USA Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

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