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Court clears way for gay marriage in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The federal appeals court that covers West Virginia has agreed that a ban on same-sex marriage in neighboring Virginia is unconstitutional — a move that advocates said would pave the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in West Virginia.

In a 2-1 decision released Monday, a three-judge panel for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s rejection of Virginia’s longtime ban on same-sex marriage. Opponents have 21 days to ask for a rehearing.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, who is considering three West Virginia couples’ challenge to this state’s same-sex marriage ban, said in June that he was waiting for the 4th Circuit decision before proceeding in the case before him.

“There are no barriers to the judge in our case immediately lifting the stay that he imposed waiting for the 4th Circuit, and there is no constitutional justification for continuing to deny same-sex couples in West Virginia the right to marry,” Beth Littrell, lead plaintiffs’ attorney for the case filed in West Virginia, said after Monday’s ruling.

Littrell, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, a national civil-rights organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the West Virginia couples, said the ruling doesn’t immediately change anything in West Virginia, “but it’s only a matter of time.”

The plaintiffs in West Virginia — two Huntington couples and one St. Albans couple who sued the county clerks in Cabell and Kanawha counties — plan to ask Chambers to lift the stay and immediately rule on their case.

“At the very least we’ll be bringing this [ruling] of binding authority to his attention,” Littrell said.

“The arguments are almost identical in terms of the reasons that same-sex couples are denied their civil rights when they are not allowed to marry the person they choose. The arguments on the other side are exactly the same.”

Fairness West Virginia, a gay-rights group, issued a statement calling Monday’s ruling “a historic day for all Mountaineers…

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