by Grady Brown
At the end of July, Virginia became the latest state to allow gay couples to marry. In a 2-1 decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down Virginia’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, incorporated into the State’s constitution in 2006. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the ruling, pending review, in August.
In Virginia, support for gay marriage echoes the national landscape, where a record-high 59 percent of Americans support gay marriage, according to a poll by the Washington Post and ABC News. While the ban on same-sex marriage was supported by 57 percent of Virginians, last March, a Quinnipiac poll found that support for gay marriage among Virginians had jumped to 50 percent. This support is bolstered by young Virginians. 70 percent of voters under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage. A University of Virginia survey found that support for same-sex marriage in Charlottesville is also high. According to the survey, 68 percent of local voters support same-sex marriage legalization. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, Virginia had an estimated 14,243 same-sex couples in 2010, while Charlottesville had 142 with 14 percent raising their own children.
This victory for same-sex supporters was short-lived. The US Supreme Court answered the petition of a Prince William County’s Circuit Court clerk and ordered a stay on the Fourth Circuit’s decision. This follows a trend across the country, where states have turned to the High Court to petition judicial decisions of lower federal courts. Last December, the Supreme Court stayed the decision of a lower court in Utah that overturned a constitutional same-sex marriage ban. Similar decisions across the country have halted the legalization of same-sex marriage in states for the time being.
The recent decision by the Supreme Court has led to a mixed response. Governor Terry McAuliffe, while disappointed in the decision, said in a statement that the Court’s decision was a “temporary delay to the inevitable conclusion that Virginians who love each other should have the opportunity to marry.” Byron Babione, a senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, hailed the decision and claimed that Virginia deserved an “orderly and fair resolution to the questions of whether they will remain free to preserve marriage as a union between a man and a woman in their laws.” Attorney General Mark Harring, while opposed to the ban, supported the Court’s decision to devote more needed time to settle the issue of same-sex marriage in Virginia and across the country – a decision that forces nearly 12,000 unmarried same-sex couples in Virginia to wait and see if they’ll have the right to marry.
Time is what the Supreme Court and Virginians will get, but what does the future of same-sex marriage look like in Virginia? With the recent string of stayed decisions, all roads lead to the Supreme Court and a decision centered on the 14th amendment. The Supreme Court could decide there is no ground for it to hear arguments over Virginia’s ban – a ruling similar to the Hollingsworth v. Perry case on Proposition 8. In that case, same-sex couples in Virginia will be allowed to marry each other. However, should the Supreme Court decide to rule on the constitutionality of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage – a decision that could impact the 31 states with bans on same-sex marriage – it’s possible that the ban could remain in place.
It’s almost certain that the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of State bans on same sex-marriage. However the Court will begin its next term in October and willannounce whether it will hear the Virginia case in the upcoming months. In the meantime, Virginia will have to wait and see if the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision will stand and if same-sex marriage legalization will go forth or not.