The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed the District Court ruling invalidating Virginia's ban on marriage equality by a 2-1 vote.
The opinion is here.
More as this develops
Some extracts from the opinion:
These cases do not define the rights in question as “the right to interracial marriage,” “the right of people owing child support to marry,” and “the right of prison inmates to marry.” Instead, they speak of a broad right to marry that is not circumscribed based on the characteristics of the individuals seeking to exercise that right. The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to constrain the right to marry to certain subspecies of marriage meshes with its conclusion that the right to marry is a matter of “freedom of choice,” Zablocki, 434 U.S. at 387, that “resides with the individual,” Loving, 388 U.S. at 12. If courts limited the right to marry to certain couplings, they would effectively create a list of legally preferred spouses, rendering the choice of whom to marry a hollow choice indeed.
Lawrence and Windsor indicate that the choices that individuals make in the context of same-sex relationships enjoy the same constitutional protection as the choices accompanying opposite-sex relationships. We therefore have no reason to suspect that the Supreme Court would accord the choice to marry someone of the same sex any less respect than the choice to marry an opposite-sex individual who is of a different race, owes child support, or is imprisoned. Accordingly, we decline the Proponents’ invitation to characterize the right at issue in this case as the right to same-sex marriage rather than simply the right to marry.
The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.Taken as a whole, this opinion provides broad support for the proposition that marriage equality is here to stay -- and not just in those places where there are laws and/or court rulings in favor of it. This ruling stands for the proposition that marriage is a basic and fundamental right in which the state does not have a compelling interest in creating classes of preferred choices.
This lays the groundwork for any appeal to the Supreme Court. It clearly states the principles on which the Court could find in favor of marriage equality in all states. Expect similar rulings from other circuits.