HARRISONBURG — Same-sex couples could begin marrying in Virginia as early as next week after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Wednesday denied a request to delay lifting the longtime marriage ban.
On July 28, the court ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution after several same-sex couples challenged the law. The decision upheld a February ruling from U.S. District Court in Norfolk that was appealed by two circuit court clerks whose duties include issuing marriage licenses.
A Northern Virginia clerk then made a motion to stay the July ruling that struck down the ban. That’s what the appeals court acted on Wednesday.
The appeals court’s order did not explain why it denied the request.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has also said he believes the ban is unconstitutional. Under the rules of the appeals court, the order allowing same-sex marriages in Virginia is effective seven days from the day it is issued, barring the U.S. Supreme Court issuing its own stay, Herring said.
That means same-sex couples may begin marrying in Virginia and having their out-of-state marriages recognized in the commonwealth next Wednesday, though Herring notes that the Supreme Court has issued a stay in similar cases around the country.
In the meantime, he advises that it “remains premature and inappropriate for circuit court clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” according to the office of the executive secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court.
“If the [U.S.] Supreme Court orders a stay, the Fourth Circuit’s mandate will not issue and Virginia’s same-sex-marriage ban will remain in place pending resolution of the case by the Supreme Court,” the office said in an advisory to circuit court clerks.
In a prepared statement, Herring said: “No one anticipated we would be this close this quickly to the day when all Virginians have the right to marry the person they love. That will be a historic day for our Commonwealth and a joyous day for thousands of loving couples.”
Chaz Evans-Haywood, clerk of Rockingham County Circuit Court, said Wednesday’s ruling changes nothing for how his office will handle same-sex marriage requests because the law is still the same.
However, if and when same-sex couples can wed, Evans-Haywood said his office would produce marriage licenses, as required by law, but not wedding ceremonies, which isn’t required.
Evans-Haywood said he doesn’t want to put one of his deputy clerks who may be morally opposed to same-sex marriage in a situation of having to conduct such a service.
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