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Virginia gay marriage ban declared invalid

Jordan Crawford | 8/4/2014, 10:40 a.m.
A Norfolk judge’s ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage was upheld by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Norfolk judge’s ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage was upheld Monday by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-member panel of the court voted 2-1 to uphold U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February ruling striking down a 2006 state constitutional amendment and other long-standing laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

“Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society,” said Allen.

Wright Allen’s ruling, made with the backing of Attorney General Mark Herring, was the most significant inroads same-sex marriage proponents have made in the Old South. The ruling declared that the state’s ban violates federal constitutional provisions on equal protection and due process of law. On Monday, the appeals court agreed.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the majority opinion. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life.”

Floyd continued: “The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina, with Monday’s decision affecting those states as well.

The court’s decision was lauded by the lead plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case, including Tim Bostic and Tony London, a Norfolk couple who have been together for 25 years. Bostic, an English professor, and London, a real estate agent, sought to get a marriage license in July 2013 but were denied by the Norfolk Circuit Court.

London got a call Monday afternoon as he was setting up real estate work for Tuesday.

“We are a little bit closer,” he said. “We still have a couple steps to go. But we have every intention of taking those steps and making sure that (things) come out the way we’re all planning them to, with everyone involved.”

The main significance of the ruling, London said, “is that Tim and I are finally going to get married.” To that end, he said, he and Bostic are planning to get married on Aug. 18 if the court doesn’t “stay” its ruling, or put it on hold until higher courts can weigh in.

But although the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t mention a stay in its ruling, it’s widely expected to issue one before its ruling takes effect next week.

London — speaking from his Norfolk home while Bostic was busy teaching a class at a culinary school in Virginia Beach — said overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage would cause thousands of gay and lesbian couples to make lifetime commitments. “It just stabilizes the whole state,” he said.

London added that he believes the ruling will help gay and lesbian teenagers feel better about themselves — helping to reduce suicides among gay youth — and will also bolster the growing numbers of children raised by same-sex couples. “It will help the kids,” he said.