NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - In a late-night announcement, a Norfolk federal judge ruled Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, making Virginia the first state in the South to overturn a voter-approved ban.
“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,” Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen said in a 41-page decision.
The ruling came after arguments were heard in the case of Bostic v. Rainey. Tim Bostic and his partner, Tony London, are a same-sex couple who have been together for several decades and live in Norfolk.
Bostic and London applied for a marriage license in 2013 only to be denied because of Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. They filed a lawsuit challenging the ban last year, alongside lesbian couple Carol Schall and Mary Townley.
During a Friday morning news conference, London and Bostic thanked their supporters as well as the court “for its careful consideration” of the case. Some of their supporters chanted “marriage for all” as the couple took to the podium in Norfolk.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen said in the ruling Virginia’s “laws deny the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
“We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect,” Wright Allen wrote in the decision:
Almost one hundred and fifty years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just … the same thing – fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”
The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in the Court’s power, they and all others shall have.
The order does not mean same-sex couples in Virginia can get married right away. Wright Allen also issued a stay of the order pending any appeals to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the decision stands, it will make Virginia one of the first states of the south to repeal a ban against same-sex marriage.
“I am proud to say that today I am equal under the law in my home state of Virginia,” Bostic said after the ruling was handed down Thursday. “Tony and I just want to get married like everyone else can. Today’s decision gets us one step closer to making that dream a reality.”
“Mary and I have raised a beautiful daughter, own a home, and have careers that allow us to be a part of our community on many levels,” Schall added. “For us, marriage is about love and commitment and our family having the recognition and protection other families enjoy. Today’s decision makes us incredibly proud of our state and our country.”
In 2006, Virginians voted to amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia to define marriage as solely between one man and woman. Herring announced shortly after he took office he believed Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and would not defend the law in federal lawsuits. Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael argued in court on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Herring issued the following statement after the ruling:
This decision is a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law. It is the latest step in a journey towards equality for all Virginians, no matter who they are or whom they love. But Judge Wright Allen’s eloquent decision is only one step in what I suspect will be an extended legal process to definitively answer the questions raised in this case. When we announced the decision to change Virginia’s legal position in Bostic v. Rainey, I said that the case presented fundamental questions that need to be decided by a court, and may ultimately need to be decided by the Supreme Court. That remains true today. 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.
Click here for more reaction from local, state and federal politicians.
The Plaintiff’s lead co-counsel Theodore B. Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP expressed his approval of the court’s decision in a press release for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which is the only sponsor of the Virginia couples who filed suit.
“Through its decision today, the court has upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded,” Olson said. “Virginia’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status. Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”
After the decision came down, Human Rights Campaign President and AFER co-founder and board member Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
Yet another court has upheld the fundamental idea that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to full equality under the law. Nearly fifty years ago, another Virginia case struck down bans on interracial marriage across the country, and now this commonwealth brings renewed hope for an end to irrational barriers to marriage for loving and committed couples across the country.
Following recent decisions in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio and Kentucky this Virginia ruling proves that marriage equality is once again on the fast track to the United States Supreme Court. From the South to the Midwest, this historic progress sends a message that no American should have to wait for equality, no matter where they live.
Right now this nation is divided into two Americas—one where full legal equality is nearly a reality, and the other where even the most basic protections of the law are nonexistent for loving gay and lesbian couples. We cannot and will not tolerate that patchwork of discrimination, and we won’t stop fighting until fairness and dignity reaches each and every American in all 50 states.
“This is a wonderful day for all loving and committed couples in Virginia who only ever wanted the same protections for their families as anyone else,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “The court is right to strike down this sweeping and discriminatory ban. We congratulate the attorneys and their clients.”
But there are others who disagree with the ruling.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement:
This ruling comes on the heels of Attorney General Mark Herring’s refusal to fulfill his constitutional duty to defend the state’s marriage law. His lawlessness is an insult to the voters of Virginia who rightfully expected elected officials to uphold the laws and constitution of the state, not attack them as Herring has done. An arrogant judiciary is only one of the major consequences of the drive to redefine marriage. Increasingly, Americans are being forced to finance and celebrate unions that not only step on free speech and religious liberty but also deny children a mom and a dad. Rather than live-and-let-live, this court by redefining marriage will create a level of inequality that has never been seen in our country as people are forced to suppress or violate the basic teachings of their faith.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states have the pre-eminent duty of defining marriage,” Brian Brown, President of the National Organization of Marriage said. ”The people of Virginia did just that in voting overwhelmingly to affirm marriage as the union of one man and woman. That decision should be respected by federal judges and we hop that the U.S. Supreme Court ends up reversing this terrible decision.
Bishops Francis X. DiLorenzo and Paul S. Loverde released a statement on the ruling, stating it “strikes a severe blow to the citizens of our Commonwealth.”
Stay with WAVY.com for more on this developing story.