Battle over gay marriage moves to the South - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Battle over gay marriage moves to the South

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By Elizabeth Chuck, Staff Writer, NBC News

A federal judge is hearing arguments Tuesday on whether Virginia's ban on gay marriage should be struck down in a case that could have repercussions for marriage equality throughout the South.

If the ban is deemed unconstitutional, Virginia will become the first state in the old Confederacy to allow gay marriage. Currently, only Washington, D.C., and 17 states, most of which are in the Northeast, allow gay marriage.

Last month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would go head-to-head with the state on the issue of gay marriage, and would not defend the 2006 voter-approved ban. That decision from the newly elected Democratic attorney general infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who accused Herring of failing to live up to his duty to defend state laws. But Herring's office stuck with siding with the plaintiffs in the case: Norfolk, Va., couple Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who were denied a marriage license by the Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1.

On Tuesday, ahead of the start of arguments, The Associated Press reported protesters and gay-marriage supporters alike had gathered at the courthouse in Norfolk. Protesters carried signs that read, "Herring's herring. AG's must uphold the law," while supporters of the plaintiffs held ones that said "Marry who you love." 

Herring planned to attend the hearing, although Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael is arguing in court on behalf of the state.

In their lawsuit, Bostic and London argue that the state law denied them liberties that are guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Chesterfield County couple Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who were married in California in 2008, later joined the case.

The plaintiffs are represented by famed attorneys from the American Foundation for Equal Rights Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, who won the battle to overturn California's Proposition 8 and the ban on gay marriage in that state. Both couples will be present in court, according to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

The suit was filed just before the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that kept gay couples from receiving federal benefits that married couples are entitled to.

The case, which is being heard by U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, is likely to move through the legal system quickly, a draw for the two attorneys for the plaintiffs, who hope to again make a case before the Supreme Court, The Washington Post reported.

Across the country, more than a dozen states have federal lawsuits challenging state bans on gay marriage.

A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 50 percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage, and 43 percent oppose it.

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