Hundreds rally outside, as same-sex marriage debated inside Virginia courtroom

Posted at 12:34 PM, May 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 19:36:47-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - While a three-judge panel heard oral arguments Tuesday which could decide whether or not same-sex marriage is allowed in Virginia, hundreds of people attended dueling rallies outside the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in downtown Richmond.

The rallies were held mainly on opposite sides of the street.

On one side, people who believe marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. On the other, people who believe same-sex couples should be allowed to get married.

Inside the courtroom - Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, Judge Roger L. Gregory, and Judge Henry F. Floyd heard arguments from lawyers on both sides of the issue.

It was an exchange full of interruptions - with lawyers being interrupted more than 40 times during the course of the one hour plus hearing. [Click here to listen to an audio recording of today's court hearing]

Neimeyer, according to CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George who was there, was by far the most combative when it came to lawyers for marriage equality.

Neimeyer, a George H.W. Bush appointee, questioned the rationale of attorney Ted Olson over whether marriage equality could lead to "fathers marrying their daughters."

"I'm not aware of any person created without a man and a woman," he added.

Gregory, according to St. George, was by far the most combative when it came to lawyers for traditional marriage.

Gregory questioned why prisoners could marry, but not gay people.

Gregory also said it was wrong for Virginia to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to be effective parents - saying it "rips" a bond from forming.

Olson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George after court "you always expect questions from judges."

Olson said he had no idea when a ruling could be issued by the court.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who earlier this year said he would refuse to defend Virginia's law that prevented same-sex marriage, said today he believed the court would ultimately rule Virginia's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.

"Nothing that was said in the courtroom today alters the basic incompatibility of this discriminatory ban with the protections guaranteed by the Constitution," Herring (D - Virginia) said following the hearing. "Every single federal court that has considered the question since last summer's 'Windsor decision has reached the same conclusion."

Earlier this year a federal judge declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed pending the outcome of today's hearing.

Olson, who is fighting the same-sex marriage ban, argued it is a matter of status. He said to deny marriage to same-sex couple is a violation a fundamental right to marry.

The lawyers who argued to favor of Virginia law said marriage has been defined as a relationship between a man and a woman for hundreds of years and that there is no legal ground for change.

"The Constitution has always protected the right to enter into the union of husband and wife, it has not done anything beyond that,"
attorney Austin Nimocks said. "We recognize that every child has a mom and a dad and every child deserves as much as possible to know, be loved and be raised by the mother and father that brought them into this world."

The judges who heard Tuesday's argument hinted several times this case was likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.