A split federal appeals court has ruled against the state of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, in another milestone ruling that could drive the issue to the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled in a 2-1 decision that the ban is unconstitutional.
“Because we conclude that Virginia’s same-sex marriage bans impermissibly infringe on its citizens’ fundamental right to marry, we affirm,” said Judge Henry Floyd in the majority decision.
"We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable," said Floyd. "However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws."
The Fourth Circuit court has jurisdiction over Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and West Virginia , and four of the five states have gay-marriage bans on the books.
"I would reverse the district court's judgment and defer to Virginia's political choice in defining marriage as only between one man and one woman,” said Judge Paul Niemeyer, who voted to uphold the ban.
The decision is the second this year at the federal appeals court level for same-sex marriage supporters.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit struck down a similar ban in Utah and the Utah attorney general’s office is working on an appeal to the Supreme Court that could be filed in September.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws or court rulings that permit same-sex marriages. In all, the same-sex marriage states represent 44 percent of the U.S. population.
States such as Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, and Michigan are also appealing court rulings that struck down their same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional.
In all, 31 states have laws or constitutional amendments on the books that ban same-sex marriages, and nine of these states are contesting recent court rulings that cited the Windsor decision as precedent to strike down the laws.
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