A federal judge in Norfolk on Tuesday
heard oral arguments in a case challenging Virginia's ban on gay
Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia presided
over the hearing in Bostic v. Rainey, which was filed in
July, a month after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling
striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),
which led to federal recognition of the marriages of gay and lesbian
The American Foundation for Equal
Rights (AFER), which successfully litigated against a similar ban in
California, joined the suit in September.
“Virginia erects a wall around its
gay and lesbian citizens,” AFER lawyer Ted Olson told the court.
“What the Commonwealth of Virginia is doing is taking away a
fundamental right. It's the right of individuals, not the right of
state, that's what's being taken away.”
The suit received a boost last month
when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he would
not defend the ban in court, leaving the task to the Circuit Court of
Clerks of Norfolk and Prince William County.
“Walking into court for same-sex
marriage hearing,” Herring tweeted. “Big day for equality for
all Virginians. VA is on right side of law and history today. -MH.”
A handful of protesters gathered
outside the courthouse to decry Herring's decision, carrying signs
which read: “Herring's herring: AG's must uphold the law.”
Roughly an equal number of people
carrying signs that read “Marry who you love” showed up to
support the plaintiff couples.
After the hearing, Herring attended a
press conference organized by AFER.
“Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia
got it right,” he told reporters.
Judge Allen said she would not issue a