Gay rights groups on Friday cheered a federal judge's ruling striking down Virginia's ban on gay marriage.

The judge stayed her ruling ruling pending an appeal.

(Related: Judge strikes down Virginia's ban on gay marriage.)

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) represented the two plaintiff couples in the case. Ted Olson of Dunn & Crutcher LLP and David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP argued the case.

“Through its decision today, the court has upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded,” said Olson in a statement. “Virginia's prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status. Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”

“The United States Supreme Court has stated fourteen times that the freedom to marry is one of the most fundamental rights – if not the most fundamental right – of all Americans,” said Boies. “The denial of that fundamental freedom to marry the person you love and be treated with equal dignity and respect seriously harms gay and lesbian Americans and the children they are raising.”

Evan Wolfson, president and CEO of Freedom to Marry, said the ruling adds to the “momentum for marriage.”

“The bipartisan momentum for marriage is building at an unprecedented speed,” Wolfson said. “In just the past several weeks, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, and Kentucky; the Attorney Generals of Virginia and Nevada; the Governor of Nevada, and now a federal judge in Virginia have all said that marriage discrimination against loving and committed gay couples is indefensible under our Constitution. There has been a fundamental shift in the legal landscape. America is ready for the freedom to marry and those couples in Virginia, on the eve of Valentine's Day, are ready to marry.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBT rights advocate, echoed a similar sentiment.

“Yet another court has upheld the fundamental idea that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to full equality under the law,” Griffin said in a blog post. “Nearly fifty years ago, another Virginia case struck down bans on interracial marriage across the country, and now this commonwealth brings renewed hope for an end to irrational barriers to marriage for loving and committed couples across the country.”

“Following recent decisions in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio and Kentucky this Virginia ruling proves that marriage equality is once again on the fast track to the United States Supreme Court. From the South to the Midwest, this historic progress sends a message that no American should have to wait for equality, no matter where they live.”

“Right now this nation is divided into two Americas – one where full legal equality is nearly a reality, and the other where even the most basic protections of the law are nonexistent for loving gay and lesbian couples. We cannot and will not tolerate that patchwork of discrimination, and we won't stop fighting until fairness and dignity reaches each and every American in all 50 states.”