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Challenge to Virginia marriage ban brought to federal court

Photo by Deanna LeBlanc/WAVY TV 10 AM Reporter

A federal court in Norfolk, Va. heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether the state’s ban on same-sex marriage should be struck down. Lawyers representing two gay couples argued that the ban is discriminatory and a violation of their clients’ right to marry, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

In addition to the ban on gay marriage, Virginia passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2006 that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Theodore Olson, is well-versed in fighting bans on gay marriage, after serving on the team that challenged California’s Proposition 8 heard by the Supreme Court last summer.

The push for marriage equality was recently endorsed by Attorney General Mark Herring, when he announced that he believes that the ban is in violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Herring sat in on the hearing today.

One attorney for the defense, Austin Nimock, argued that marriage is a traditional institution, adding that, “citizens of Virginia have continuously chosen to celebrate the unique differences between a man and a woman.”

The original suit was filed last summer by Old Dominion University professor Timothy Bostic and Navy veteran and real estate agent Tony C. London, a couple from the Norfolk area whose marriage license was denied. In addition, Mary Townley and Carol Schall, a couple from the metro Richmond area, have joined the suit as co-plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen promised a decision on the state gay marriage ban “soon.” Lawyers on both sides have said they would appeal any loss to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the New York Times writes that if the ban was struck down in Virginia and the ruling upheld by the Court of Appeals, any amendments that limit the definition of marriage to between a man and a woman would likely be repealed in the other states of the Fourth Circuit, which include West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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