(CN) - Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally interferes with couples' right to marry, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
"The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia's marriage laws unconstitutionally
deny Virginia's gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry," U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen wrote. "Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country's cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family."
Two couples challenged the state's laws as a violation of their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Proponents of the laws argued that the state has the right to define marriage according to the will of its citizens, who in 2004 voted for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between "one man and one woman."
They also cited tradition, federalism, and "responsible procreation" and "optimal child rearing" as justifications for the same-sex marriage ban.
Allen was not convinced.
"Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships," she wrote in her 41-page ruling. "Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices -- choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference."
Allen blocked the state from denying same-sex marriage licenses or refusing to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. She stayed her ruling, however, pending the state's appeal.
Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, lauded Thursday's ruling, saying the judge was "right to strike down this sweeping and discriminatory ban."
The ACLU filed a separate class action
last August on behalf of same-sex couples in Virginia. Allen's ruling does not affect the federal class action. Attorneys in that case recently filed a motion for summary judgment, which is still pending.