U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen lowered the boom on those seeking to keep committed gay and lesbian couples from marrying in Virginia on page 37 of her opinion striking down the commonwealth’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Virginia’s Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny.
The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse “responsible procreation”—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.
With that, Wright Allen joined federal judges in at least three states who have come to the same conclusion: that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. While Thursday’s decision is stayed pending the inevitable appeal, it confirms that the new momentum in the marriage equality movement is coming from the unlikeliest of place: the South and West.
In addition to Virginia, there are now cases in Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Alabama and Louisiana. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that same-sex marriages done in other states must be recognized in the Bluegrass State. And Nevada stopped defending its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage against court challenge. These are not exactly hospitable places for the gay rights movement, which makes the court action that much more significant. For it will be through the courts, not the plebiscite, that will determine the marital standing of same-sex couples.
“The bipartisan momentum for marriage is building at an unprecedented speed. In just the past several weeks, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, and Kentucky; the Attorney Generals of Virginia and Nevada; the Governor of Nevada, and now a federal judge in Virginia have all said that marriage discrimination against loving and committed gay couples is indefensible under our Constitution,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry. “There has been a fundamental shift in the legal landscape. America is ready for the freedom to marry and those couples in Virginia, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, are ready to marry.”
Wright Allen signaled the historic significance of her ruling in the first paragraph. She did so not with her words, but with those of Mildred Loving. Her 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, led the Supreme Court to strike down state statutes banning interracial marriage.
“We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?” Loving said in a statement on the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision. “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. . . . I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
With incredible speed, we’re seeing the nation, through its courts, quickly coming around to Loving’s point of view.
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