No Delay on Same-Sex Marriage in VA: Here’s Why That’s OK

Nicolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Virginia’s 4th Circuit court ruled at the end of July that Virginia’s voter-led ban on gay marriage was not constitutionally acceptable as it constituted “segregation.” That left two big question marks on the horizon. The first dealt with the inevitable appeal to Supreme Court at some indeterminate time in the future. The second we’ve just had answered: Will Virginia couples be allowed to proceed with marriages? Or will these proceedings be held off with a motion to stay until a later date, as some states have held?

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, “Upon consideration of submissions relative to the motion to stay mandate, the court denies the motion,” bringing forth the expected celebrations and ceremonies, as well as some choice words from opponents.

“It’s shocking that the 4th Circuit has introduced chaos to Virginia where other appellate courts have recognized that the final decision will likely be made by the Supreme Court,” Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, told The Washington Post. “This decision suggests an arrogance by these judges that is simply appalling.”

Where Other States Stand

Virginia joins Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Utah, and Wisconsin as states that have dealt with the concern of legal limbo. Arkansas initially saw marriage licenses issued to hundreds of couples after the Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. Not long after, though, the Arkansas Supreme Court stopped licenses from being issued. Colorado’s Supreme Court made a similar intervention in July, and same-sex marriages that took place in Indiana after its ban was struck down are not being recognized at present, pending further decisions.

Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio are all awaiting the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Michigan initially saw many couples rush to tie the knot, but a stay was later granted placing the rights that went with many couples legal marriage on hold, at least according to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Utah saw similar limbo, and Wisconsin also saw a stay.

How Will the 4th Circuit Ruling Affect Other States?

Ultimately, that will depend on the Supreme Court stepping in, and what it decides. For the moment, Nancy Leong, a law professor at University of Denver, suggests the influence will be overarching. She told USA Today that if West Virginia and the Carolinas choose not to allow marriages, technically they’ll be within their rights, but the ultimate legal decision would be the same for them both in the end anyhow — making intermediate refusal pointless.

Finally, Is It an “Arrogant” Decision?

Let me just rip off the rhetorical band-aid and say simply: No. It isn’t. The Supreme Court left the same-sex marriage debate to the states, well aware that it would result in different rulings, messy, non-conforming, and conflicting national marriage policy and civil rights stances. Voilà! That’s just what we have. States are sorting things out for themselves, Attorney Generals are making the personal choice on whether or not to defend their state’s bans, appeals are taking place, protests, and local politicians are making their own stances clear or foggy — depending on the day and the state.

The 4th Circuit Court has every right to not follow the example that other states have set in placing a stay on marriages. Other states saw potential legal complexity, limbo, future shades of gray in individual’s rights and state’s responsibilities. It was simpler to wait for a final decision — however long that might take — and to put the situation in other hands. I’d say confidence might be a more appropriate word — confidence in the legal system, in the court’s own ruling, in the necessity of rights as soon as possible, and in the system that placed the decision in the hands of the Circuit Court to begin with, rather than in the hands of the Supreme Court from the start. Confidence is not arrogance.

Of course, it’s still possible that the Supreme Court may intervene early and demand that the state await its ruling — which could be a year or further out still. Senior Counsel Byron Babion for the Alliance Defending Freedom said that it would be appealing to the Supreme Court to step in, according to WUSA, and “ensure an orderly and dignified resolution of this important constitutional question.” Of course, if an orderly and dignified resolution was all the Supreme Court desired, there was an easy way to do so — but states were given the wheel, and it makes sense that in the interim before the Supreme Court takes over once again, the states should retain the wheel and drive wherever they please. In Virginia’s case, with a number of white cans on strings dragging behind the car.

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