A federal appeals court denied a request to block same-sex marriages from being performed in Virginia, and unless the Supreme Court intervenes, couples can begin to wed as early as next week, according to court filings and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request for a stay of its 2-1 decision last month to overturn Virginia's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
Officials in Prince William County had asked for the stay, and may still petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, the ACLU said in a statement. Otherwise couples can begin to wed Aug. 20.
“We hope that the Supreme Court will leave this ruling in place, so that same-sex couples may begin marrying right away,” Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement. “Our clients have already waited far too long to exercise their constitutional right to marry, or to have their marriages from other states recognized.”
Calls to the Prince William County clerk's office seeking comment were not returned.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that represented the county clerk, said it intends to petition the nation’s highest court to hear the case.
“The people of Virginia and every other state should continue to be free to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their laws if they choose to do so,” executive director Byron Babione said in a statement. “Because the 4th Circuit chose not to place a hold on its decision as other courts -- including the U.S. Supreme Court -- have done in nearly identical cases, we intend to ask the high court to do so in this case before the 4th Circuit’s mandate goes into effect.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and every remaining state ban faces a court challenge.
The battle in Virginia, along with one in Utah, sets the stage for a possible Supreme Court ruling on the matter. Newly elected Virginia Atty. Gen. Mark Herring has repeatedly refused to defend the voter-approved ban in court, calling it unconstitutional, and he previously appealed to the high court to strike down the state ban.
The case could also end up in the high court if the Prince William County clerk files a petition. Earlier this month, Utah Atty. Gen. Sean Reyes filed a similar petition after a marriage in his state was overturned, saying he would welcome the finality of a Supreme Court ruling.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court will likely grant a stay due to the legal confusion caused in other states where marriages have begun before the appeals process was exhausted.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights, the Los Angeles-based marriage equality advocacy group that was heavily involved in the lower court case that first challenged Virginia's marriage ban, also noted the likely intervention of the high court.
"While Tim & Tony and Carol & Mary are thrilled with today's decision, they understand that this ruling will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court in the next few days, and until then any prospect of marriage equality will be on hold," a statement from the organization read.
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