RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Same-sex couples will have to wait longer to begin marrying in Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to delay an appeals court ruling striking down the state’s gay marriage ban.
The nation’s highest court granted a request from a county clerk in northern Virginia to delay a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that would have allowed for same-sex couples to marry beginning Thursday morning. The state would have also had to start recognizing gay marriages from out of state if the Supreme Court had denied the request. The court provided no explanation for its order.
The federal appeals court last week refused to delay its decision striking down the ban, issued in late July, while it is appealed to the high court. The appeals court’s order did not explain why it denied that request.
The Supreme Court’s decision was not unexpected, as it previously issued an order in January putting same-sex unions on hold in Utah while the federal appeals court in Denver was hearing the case. That court upheld the decision striking down Utah’s gay marriage ban, but delayed its decision from taking effect pending appeal to the Supreme Court. Most other federal court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage also have been put on hold.
Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that banned gay marriage and prohibited the recognition of such marriages performed in other states.
The appeals court ruling overturning that ban was the third such ruling by a federal appeals court and the first in the South, a region where the rising tide of rulings favoring marriage equality is testing concepts of states’ rights and traditional, conservative moral values that have long held sway.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who has said he will not defend the state’s ban and believes the courts ruled correctly in striking it down — asked the Supreme Court earlier this month to review a lower court’s decision striking down the state’s ban. Herring said he believes the case will prove compelling to the high court because of the ‘‘stringent, discriminatory nature of Virginia’s marriage ban’’ and other factors.
The Virginia lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who were denied a marriage license, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. The women were married in California and wanted their marriage recognized in the state where they are raising a 16-year-old daughter.
A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati recently considered arguments regarding six cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some observers have said the 6th Circuit may be the first to uphold statewide gay marriage bans after more than 20 consecutive rulings in the past eight months striking them down.
Associated Press writers Brock Vergakis in Norfolk and Sam Hananel in Washington contributed to this report.