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By Timothy M. Phelps, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a court order that would have allowed gay marriages in Virginia to begin Thursday, adding to the likelihood the justices will decide the issue themselves in the coming term.

The brief order by the court contained no explanation for its rationale, but it was not a surprise because the court had previously blocked a similar ruling that would have allowed gay marriages in Utah.

There has been a drumbeat of federal court decisions ruling that state laws banning same-sex marriages are unconstitutional, putting pressure on the justices to decide the issue. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and effectively reinstated gay marriage in California but stopped short of saying all states had to allow gays to marry.

On July 28, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond by a 2-1 vote said, “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.”

That court subsequently refused to stop its ruling from going into effect pending appeal. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group representing a Virginia county court clerk opposed to implementing the ruling, asked the justices to intervene.

Allowing marriages to proceed before the issue is resolved “would invite needless chaos and uncertainty rather than facilitate the orderly and dignified resolution of a constitutional question of enormous national importance,” the group said.

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, had refused to defend the law. But he told the justices Monday he agreed they should “stay” the 4th Circuit ruling and urged them to expedite a final ruling.

The justices could decide as soon as September to put the issue on their docket for a ruling by June 2015.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons

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