The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has just affirmed U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen's February ruling striking down Virginia's marriage discrimination amendment as unconstitutional!
The lawsuit was brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the same legal group that challenged California's Proposition 8. With today's ruling, three of the nation's eleven circuit courts of appeal -- the 9th, the 10th, and now the 4th -- have struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriage. Freedom-to-marry advocates are now 29 for 29 in the post-Windsor era.
The appeals court ruled that "the fundamental right to marriage includes a right to same-sex marriage and that therefore Virginia's marriage laws must be reviewed under strict scrutiny."
USA Today adds:
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled 2-1 that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry that is paramount to state marriage laws.
"We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable," the majority said. "However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws."
The circuit court has jurisdiction over Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The panel's decision can be appealed to the full court or to the Supreme Court.
Like the first appeals court panel to rule on the issue this year in Utah and Oklahoma, the three-judge panel was deeply divided, but the swing judge -- in this case Henry Floyd, who was named to the bench by George W. Bush and elevated to the circuit court by President Obama in 2011 -- came down on the side of same-sex marriage.
An appeal is expected, meaning that unless the state requests and obtains an appeal before the full Fourth Circuit Bench, this case, Bostic v. Schaefer, will soon join Utah's Kitchen v. Herbert on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stay tuned for more information on this developing story. A copy of today's ruling is after the break, via Equality Case Files.
UPDATE: From the ruling --
"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."