Richmond, VA ( -- A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has affirmed a district court judge's ruling that overturns Virginia's constitutional same-sex marriage ban.  The ruling was 2-to-1 with Roger Gregory -- a Clinton appointee -- and Henry Floyd -- an Obama appointee -- as the majority.  A lengthy dissent was crafted by George H.W. Bush appointee Paul Niemeyer.

Floyd -- writing for the majority -- says "we conclude the Virginia Marriage Laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment..."  He continues, "Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life.  It allows individuals to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security.... Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the 14th Amendment cannot countenance."

Niemeyer in his dissent writes, "While I express no viewpoint on the merits of the policy debate, I do strongly disagree with the assertion that same-sex marriage is subject to the same constitutional protections as the traditional right to marry.  Because there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage and there are rational reasons for not recognizing it, just as there are rational reasons for recognizing it, I conclude that we, in the Third Branch, must allow the States to enact legislation on the subject in accordance with their political processes."

This decision not just affects Virginia's ban, but also similar bans in the 4th Circuit's jurisdiction in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.  Maryland is also in the 4th Circuit, but it does not have such a ban.

This particular suit was filed by a gay Norfolk couple, Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who filed suit a year ago this month after being denied a marriage license by the Norfolk Circuit Court.  Carol Schall and Mary Townley, a gay couple in Chesterfield County, joined later.

Click here to read the full appeals court opinion.