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Virginia's same-sex marriage ban struck down

RICHMOND, Virginia--Virginia's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, one of more than 20 legal decisions around the country favoring gay marriage proponents since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond is the second federal appellate court to overturn gay marriage bans, after the Denver circuit, and is the first to affect the South, where states' rights have held particular sway for generations.

More than 70 cases have been filed in all 31 states that prohibit same-sex marriage. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow such marriages.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper quickly announced Monday that his office will stop defending his state's ban, saying, it is “time to stop making arguments we will likely lose.” But a spokesman for South Carolina's attorney general, Alan Wilson, said he sees no need to change course.

Cooper joins a growing number of top state lawmen, including Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who have refused to defend their state bans.

“I am proud that the Commonwealth of Virginia is leading on one of the most important civil rights issues of our day,” Herring said. “We are fighting for the right of loving, committed couples to enter the bonds of marriage.”

In Monday's 2-1 opinion in Virginia, the judges ruled that Virginia's constitutional and statutory provisions barring gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions performed in other states violate the U.S. Constitution. The defendants are likely to ask for the ruling to be stayed pending more appeals to the full 4th circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court; otherwise, marriage licenses to same-sex couples could begin to be issued in 21 days.

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