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Topics In the News
Supreme Court Halts Virginia Same-Sex Marriages
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/21/14
Last updated on: 08/22/14
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On August 20, 2014, only hours before state officials were to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a motion to stay the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Bostic v. Schaefer, thus halting the dawn of marriage equality in the state. The terse order from the Supreme Court overruled the Fourth Circuit's refusal on August 13 to stay its decision issued on July 28, 2014.

In a 2-1 opinion issued on July 28, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The decision, authored by Judge Henry Floyd and joined by Judge Roger Gregory, found that Virginia's marriage laws "impermissibly infringe upon its citizens' fundamental right to marry." That ruling upheld the February decision of U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, who found that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.

The Fourth Circuit is the second federal appeals court to invalidate a state's marriage ban after the Supreme Court's historic Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013. Earlier in the summer, the Tenth Circuit struck down same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, but stayed its decision pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The one-page order issued by the Supreme Court on August 20 offered no explanation for its decision, but did hint that it would soon rule on whether to grant a writ of certiorari (i.e., agree to accept for review) in the case.

The Supreme Court stayed the Fourth Circuit's decision "pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.

The stay was widely expected, but nevertheless disappointing. It no doubt reflects the Supreme Court's determination that it will have the final judicial say in regard to marriage equality. It may also indicate that the Court will make a definitive ruling in its 2014-2015 term.

It is likely that all future federal court decisions concerning marriage equality will be automatically stayed pending a ruling from the Supreme Court. However, it is possible that in the interim some states may gain marriage equality as a result of rulings from state courts. State Supreme Courts in Arkansas, Colorado, and Florida, for example, may soon consider cases challenging same-sex marriage bans.

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry told Alan Rappeport of the New York Times that "It is time for the Supreme Court to affirm what more than 30 courts have held in the past year: Marriage discrimination violates the Constitution, harms families and is unworthy of America."

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said that gay Virginians were suffering by having to wait to have their relationships affirmed by the state, adding that they had waited "long enough for the freedom to marry."

"Loving couples and families," Parris continued, "should not have to endure yet another standstill before their commitment to one another is recognized here in Virginia."

The decision in Bostic v. Schaefer may be found here.

The order staying the Bostic decision may be found here.

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