Virginia voters approved an amendment to their state constitution eight years ago, banning marriage equality in the commonwealth. Last night, a federal district court judge struck down that measure as unconstitutional.
A federal judge struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage Thursday, positioning the Old Dominion in line to potentially join 17 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay couples to legally wed.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen – a President Obama appointee – found that Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, enacted by voters in 2006, violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Note, the court’s ruling does not clear the way for immediate same-sex marriages in Virginia – Allen issued a stay that leaves existing law in place while the case is on appeal. The appeals will not, however, be pushed by Virginia’s state government, with state Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announcing recently that he believes the law is unconstitutional and he will not defend it in court.
The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Indeed, it’s worth reading if only to fully appreciate the strength and vigor of Allen’s reasoning.
“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us,” she wrote. “While ever-vigilant for the wisdom that can come from the voices of our voting public, our courts have never long tolerated the perpetuation of laws rooted in unlawful prejudice.”
Allen concluded, “Almost one hundred and fifty four 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 cannot 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 this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”
If yesterday’s ruling stands, Virginia will be the first southern state – the only state of the old Confederacy – to extend equal marriage rights to all of its residents.
And in the larger context, it’s probably dawning on opponents of marriage equality that the arc of history is going to continue to bend towards justice, no matter how hard they push in the other direction.
Virginia’s court ruling last night comes on the heels of a related anti-discrimination ruling in Kentucky, which came on the heels of an anti-discrimination ruling in Oklahoma, which came on the heels of an anti-discrimination ruling in Utah.