A federal judge declared Virginia's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, the state's attorney general announced late Thursday. The decision was immediately stayed, pending an expected appeal.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen said the marriage ban violated the rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but the stay meant same-sex couples in the commonwealth would not be able to wed.
"Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships," Wright Allen, a President Obama appointee, said in the ruling. "Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference."
The decision makes Virginia the first state in the South to have its voter-approved ban overturned and came a day after a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
Last month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring informed the court that the office opposed the constitutionality of the amendment banning such marriages.
"Yet another court has upheld the fundamental idea that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to full equality under the law," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said after the ruling.
"Nearly 50 years ago, another Virginia case struck down bans on interracial marriage across the country, and now this commonwealth brings renewed hope for an end to irrational barriers to marriage for loving and committed couples across the country," he said.
Freedom to Marry's president, Evan Wolfson, also applauded the decision, saying, "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."