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Federal Appeals Court Declares Virginia Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Federal Appeals Court Declares Virginia Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

RICHMOND, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today declared that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This marks the second time that an appellate-level court has ruled on state marriage bans following the dismantling of a key section of the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA).

The Fourth Circuit includes Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland, the only state in the circuit that allows same-sex couples to marry. The precedent from today's ruling applies to all of these states.

“Today’s ruling sets a clear precedent for courts in North Carolina and is the most significant step to date toward securing the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples in our state,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “Though there is still much work that needs to be done, this ruling has given an enormous boost to our efforts to ensure that all loving and committed couples are able to have the security and dignity that comes only with marriage.”

The ACLU and ACLU-NCLF have filed two federal lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, both in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. The first, Fisher-Borne et al. v. Smith, was filed in July 2013 as an amended complaint to a 2012 lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions on behalf of six families across the state headed by same-sex couples. On April 9, 2014, the ACLU filed a second federal lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin et al. v. Cooper, on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action.

The ACLU had filed an amicus curiae, or “friend-of-the-court,” brief in the Bostic case before the Fourth Circuit on behalf of its North Carolina clients who are raising children. The brief highlights particular harms that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples has on families and children, including denial of medical decision-making in an emergency, Social Security Insurance survivor benefits, the ability to provide children with quality health insurance of the non-legal parents, detrimental tax status, and denial of veteran’s benefits, among others.

The ACLU has brought additional challenges against similar laws in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Alabama and lawsuits seeking recognition of legal marriages in Michigan, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor v. U.S. – a case in which the ACLU represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to DOMA – the ACLU launched the Out for Freedom campaign to achieve the freedom to marry for same-sex couples across the country.

The court's ruling is available here http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/usca4_SSM_20140728.pdf