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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."
The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to strike down the ban.
"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.
In June, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver voted 2-1 to invalidate Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. Last week, Utah officials said they planned to appeal that ruling to the US Supreme Court.
The Tenth Circuit court also last week reached a similar conclusion regarding Oklahoma's ban on marriage for gay couples.
Monday's decision in the Virginia case came in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples from Norfolk and Chesterfield. They were joined in the case by two couples from Staunton and Winchester seeking to represent a class of all same-sex couples in the state who wished to marry.
Two high-profile lawyers, Ted Olson and David Boies, argued the Virginia case before the appeals court in May. They earlier led the legal fight against California's Proposition 8, which ended in a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that invalidated that state's ban.
A total of 19 states now permit same-sex marriage. Lower courts have ruled against bans in 13 of the remaining 31 states, but those rulings are on hold while the cases work their way through the appeals process.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, hears argument Aug. 6 on challenges to bans on same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.