Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday -- the second appellate court to rule on the marriage issue. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia, said the state's laws "impermissibly infringe on its citizens' fundamental right to marry."
Proponents of marriage equality have been on an extraordinary winning streak in the courts over the last year, but in nearly every instance, the judicial rulings have come by way of state and federal district courts. When federal appellate courts start weighing in, the decisions carry even broader consequences.
Take today, for example. NBC News' Pete Williams reports:
The 2-1 ruling is available online here (pdf). Note, it was written by Judge Henry Floyd, who was appointed to the federal bench by W. Bush, but elevated to the 4th Circuit by Obama. He was joined by Judge Roger Gregory, who originally received a recess appointment from Clinton, before being re-nominated by W. Bush.
The majority ruling was unequivocal. "We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. 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. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security.
"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 court said.
This was not, however, the first appeals court to rule on the issue. In June, the 10th Circuit ruled 2-1 against Utah's prohibition on marriage equality.
The 6th Circuit is expected to rule on an Ohio case on the same issue.
How many federal cases have opponents of marriage equality won since the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling last summer? Zero.