In yet another blow to opponents of marriage equality, a federal judge ruled late Thursday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, passed by voters in 2006, was unconstitutional. The decision came just a week after U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen heard arguments in the case.
“Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships,” Wright Allen wrote in her decision. “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.”
However, the ruling doesn’t mean marriages can happen immediately. Wright Allen issued a stay with her decision until the Supreme Court rules on the case. The Virginia case has been chosen by Theodore Olsen and David Boies, the attorneys who brought the challenge to California’s Prop 8 to the Supreme Court last year, as the case that can settle marriage equality once and for all.
To place her decision in context, Wright Allen began her decision by quoting Mildred Loving. In a famous 1967 Supreme Court decision, Loving and her husband successfully challenged Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. In announcing last month that the state would not defend the marriage ban, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring specifically cited the Loving case as an example of the state not being “on the right side of history.”
The ruling comes just one day after a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex couples wed elsewhere and hinted broadly that that state’s ban on marriages wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge. Federal judges have also struck down marriage equality bans in Oklahoma and Utah, while opponents of marriage equality have yet to win in federal court since last year’s Supreme Court ruling.
“There has been a fundamental shift in the legal landscape,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry. “America is ready for the freedom to marry and those couples in Virginia, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, are ready to marry.”