In early February, a Virginia federal judge ruled that the commonwealth’s existing ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This is the first ruling of its kind in the South, setting an important precedent for future court cases. While federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma have announced similar decisions, Virginia is the first state in its federal appeals court jurisdiction to announce this ruling.
In South Carolina, a gay couple are now challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban. According to the couple’s lawyer, the Virginia decision may provide some guidance for the judge who is hearing the case. The couple were legally married in Washington, D.C. and are arguing that South Carolina’s ban on gay marriage violates their legal rights. Although the federal government recognizes their marriage after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional last year, the state of South Carolina does not.
According to Lambda Legal, a prominent LGBT rights organization, five Southern state courts are going to be hearing cases that challenge bans on gay marriage. As public opposition to gay marriage softens over time, more voters in the South are speaking out in its favor. Public opinion is expected to change more quickly as retiring judges are replaced with younger appointees, who are less likely to tolerate restrictions on gay marriage. With states like Virginia and Oklahoma fighting for gay marriage, the mood is likely to continue to shift throughout the South.
In the coming years, we may see full-scale legalization in the South and across the United States. If you are dealing with LGBT-related legal issues, speak with an experienced Charlottesville family law attorney.
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