Monday’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Virginia’s Bostic v. Schaeffer case marks the second federal appeals court that has ruled in favor of marriage equality since last year’s historic Windsor ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. (The decision Monday follows the June rulings by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Utah’s Kitchen v. Herbert and Okahoma’s Bishop v. Smith.)
Monday’s ruling solidifies Virginia’s already unique place in the U.S. history of marriage. In 1967 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what we currently refer to as “the Loving decision,” in Loving v. Virginia, the landmark civil rights decision which overturned the laws against interracial marriage. In 2007 Loving plaintiff Mildred Loving stated her support for marriage equality: “I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
In a 2-1 decision authored by Judge Henry F. Floyd and joined by Judge Roger L. Gregory, the court declared in its ruling:
“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. 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.”
On page 39 of the decision, the majority opinion confirmed that, “[u]nder both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, interference with a fundamental right warrants the application of strict scrutiny.”
“Today’s decision stands as a testament that all Americans are created equal and denying loving gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry is indefensible,” said Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel Theodore B. Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
“Each and every milestone in this fight for marriage equality brings Tony and me one step closer to making our dream of being married a reality,” said Plaintiff Tim Bostic. “Our victory today reminds us why we filed this lawsuit – to fight for respect and full equality not only for us, but for all Virginians.”
“The Circuit Court’s decision reminds me of how proud I am to be a Virginian,” said Plaintiff Carol Schall. “Mary and I have lived here for over 40 years, have been in a wonderful relationship for nearly 30, and have raised a beautiful daughter here in our home state. We could not be more thrilled with the judges’ decision.”
The defendants in Virginia now have the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the Fourth Circuit, which decides whether or not to grant that request. They may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Jeff and I were overjoyed last year when we were finally able to marry in his home state of California,” said native Virginian Thom Watson. “But our marriage wasn’t recognized in my home state, where we met and started building a life together eleven years ago. We are thrilled for the many loving couples in Virginia whose equality was affirmed by today’s ruling, and we look forward to the day when our marriages will be recognized throughout the U.S.”
Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) Program Director Tracy Hollister noted that the Fourth Circuit is the governing judicial circuit for Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, and her home state of North Carolina. She has been following the Fourth Circuit closely.
“I am thrilled that the Fourth Circuit set legal precedent that, once final, will help undo North Carolina’s Amendment One, making it our country’s most short-lived and last anti-marriage equality amendment,” said Hollister. “This ruling affirms what I felt in my heart as my friends and I phone banked to defeat Amendment One: each of us deserves the full dignity and respect that comes with being able to legally marry the person we love. When I return home, I will feel more equal and more hopeful.”
“It was in a case out of Virginia that the Supreme Court ended race discrimination in marriage. And today, in another Virginia marriage case, a federal circuit court ruled against discrimination in marriage, affirming the freedom to marry for loving and committed gay couples,” said Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson. “The Fourth Circuit’s ruling echoes what over 25 other federal and state courts have held: same-sex couples deserve the dignity of marriage, and anti-marriage laws are indefensible. Every day of denial is a day of injustice and tangible harms. It’s time for the Supreme Court to bring the country to national resolution and secure the freedom to marry for all.”
Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia, meaning 44 percent of Americans live in states where gay couples share in the freedom to marry. Recent polling by the Washington Post/ABC News shows 59 percent of Americans support marriage, including a majority of young evangelicals and Republicans under 45 in other polls.
In total, 29 federal and state rulings in recent months have struck down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.