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Gay Rights Groups in 3 States Closely Eye Va. Case

Monday May 12, 2014
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A federal appeals court decision invalidating Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban would have at least some impact on similar prohibitions in three neighboring states, gay-rights activists said Monday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond will hear arguments Tuesday on a judge’s ruling striking down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. U.S. District Judge Arena Wright Allen ruled in February that the prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia also prohibit gay marriage and are part of the 4th Circuit. A ruling affirming Allen’s decision could either strike down bans or virtually ensure the success of similar lawsuits in the other states, leaders of gay-rights organizations said.

"We hope the ruling is sweeping, but even if it’s not we hope it will provide precedent for our own legal challenge," said Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said activists are excited about the possibility of the Virginia ruling striking down his state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Maryland also is in the 4th Circuit, but it is one of the 17 states that already allow same-sex marriage.

Matt McGill, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Virginia case, said in a telephone interview that the activists are correct about the possible ripple effect of the appeals court’s ruling.

"It depends on how the 4th Circuit decides the case," he said. "To the extent the court of appeals is interpreting the Constitution of the United States, that interpretation would be binding on the other states within the 4th Circuit. It could have the effect of striking down marriage bans in West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina."

Supporters of the same-sex marriage ban have argued that procreation is a major reason for marriage, and that children fare better in homes with both a mother and a father.

The Family Research Council, which supported Virginia’s 2006 constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, says in a friend-of-the court brief that recognition of same-sex unions "would be detrimental to the institution of marriage, children and society as a whole."

The lawsuit was filed by two same-sex couples - Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. Bostic said in a telephone interview that he and London brought the lawsuit primarily for their own benefit, but the widespread public support they have received has changed their perspective.

"It all of a sudden made us realize it’s not just about us," Bostic said. "It’s bigger than that."

The appeals court typically rules several weeks, or even months, after hearing arguments.

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