Federal District Judge Declares Virginia Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
February 14th, 2014
While I was sleeping, Federal District Judge U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen found Virginias constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states as a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is considered one of the most sweeping bans in the country. It’s only fitting, then, the Judge Allen’s ruling is similarly sweeping. In addition to striking down the constitutional amendment, she also set aside portions of the civil code and “any other Virginia law that bars same-sex marriage or prohibits Virginia’s recognition of lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.” Marriages won’t begin anytime soon however, ah Judge Allen issued a stay pending an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court. In Judge Allen’s 42-page ruling, she concludes:
The Court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s Marriage Laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry. Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.
Judge Allen set the tone for her ruling on the cover page of her opinion, when she took the unusual step to add a preface consisting of a block quotation from Mildred Loving (née Jeter) the African-American Virginia resident who married her white husband, Richard Perry Loving in 1958, in violation of Virginia’s Anti-miscegenation law, and whose case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck those laws down nationwide:
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? … I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry. Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. 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.
— Mildred Loving, “Loving for All”
Judge Allen turns to another landmark American at the conclusion of her opinion:
Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.
Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing–fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. “
The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have. [Emphasis in the original]