TODAY: 4th Circuit Appeals Court hears oral arguments in Virginia marriage case

On Tuesday, May 13, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond will hear oral arguments in Bostic v. Schaefer, a federal lawsuit that seeks the freedom to marry in Virginia. The hearing, which begins at 9:30am Eastern Time, follows a victory in the case at the district court from February 2014. 

In February, Judge Arenda L. Wright ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in the case, Bostic v. Rainey, striking down anti-marriage laws in the state and making sweeping references to the damage that marriage discrimination causes to families in Virginia. 

She wrote: "A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Constitution declares that "all men" are created equal. Surely this means all of us."

Listen to the full audio from the oral arguments in the Bostic v. Schaefer case at the 4th Circuit:

The ruling in the Virginia case - which will likely not come down for another few months from the 4th Circuit Appeals Court - could have far-reaching impact on the state of the freedom to marry in the country. The appeal will certainly impact marriage marriage laws in Virginia, but it could also have a wider reach. Because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals covers four states - North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia - a broader ruling could potentially impact these other three 4th Circuit states as well as VA.

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson reflected on the 4th Circuit hearing today. He said:

Americans have come a long way in supporting the freedom to marry, with a majority for marriage nationwide, and so has Virginia, where we've won over a majority of 56% now in favor. So have the courts - with 11 out of 11 federal judges and numerous state courts from New Mexico to Arkansas all ruling in recent months against marriage discrimination. The momentum is undeniable, but every day's denial is a real hardship to families in the states, like Virginia, where the Constitution's guarantees are still unfulfilled. The 4th Circuit should follow the lead of the lower courts, and the language and logic of the Supreme Court's ruling last year, and end marriage discrimination now.

State equality groups in the 4th Circuit - including Equality North Carolina, South Carolina Equality, Equality Virginia, and Equality West Virginia - have been working together this year to spread the word about the potential impact of the Bostic case. Today, they hosted a joint press conference with reporters explaining the stories of why marriage matters in each of these four states. They also released this joint statement:

Families living in the American South are universally discriminated against daily by being denied the freedom to marry in every state they call home. This explains why our region is not only at the heart of nearly 50 pending marriage lawsuits, but is also a likely bellwether for the fate of all state bans on marriage equality across the country. 

As a result, state equality groups all across the South, including Equality Virginia, Equality NC, Fairness West Virginia, and South Carolina Equality, are taking a strong stand today and leading the charge for a new tomorrow – to grow public support for the freedom to marry across the region and amplify our many stories and supportive voices so that there is no mistaking that all of America is ready for a 50-state legal resolution.

This is why we demand the Bostic case be upheld: to keep our states, our region, and this entire nation on the right side of history.

The 4th Circuit is the second federal appellate court this year to hear oral arguments on the freedom to maryr, following the 10th Circuit's hearings last month in Oklahoma's Bishop v. Smith and Utah's Kitchen v. Herbert. In the coming months, 4 other federal appellate courts will hear arguments in marriage cases - in the 9th (Nevada's Sevcik v. Sandoval), 6th (Ohio's Obergefell v. Wymyslo and Henry v. Himes; Michigan's DeBoer v. Snyder; Tennessee's Tanco v. Haslam; and Kentucky's Bourke v. Beshear), 5th (Texas' DeLeon v. Perry), and 11th (Indiana's Baskin v. Bogan). One of these cases – or perhaps one of the more than 70 active lawsuits nationwide seeking the freedom to marry or respect of legal marriages – could make its way to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court would then have the chance to provide national resolution on marriage for same-sex couples.

Learn more about marriage litigation in the United States HERE.