NORFOLK, Va. — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, making it the first state in the South to have its voter-approved prohibition overturned.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning gay couples in Virginia will still not be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Both sides think the case won't be settled until the Supreme Court decides to hear it or one like it.
Allen's ruling makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages.
A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Virginia judge's ruling also follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.
The Virginia Attorney General's Office took the unusual step of not defending the law because it thinks the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast.
More than a dozen states have federal lawsuits challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.