Washington: A federal appeals court Monday struck down Virginia`s ban on same-sex marriage, in a landmark victory for the gay rights movement in the United States.
The Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in the state capital Richmond said the ban violated the US Constitution`s guarantee of equal protection under the law by infringing on the right to marry.
"The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual`s life," the court said.
"Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance."
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he was "overjoyed" by the ruling -- raising hopes that state officials might soon issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
"This is a historic ruling ... and its effect will affirm once again that Virginia is a state that is open and welcoming to all," he said in a statement.
Virginia effectively banned same-sex marriage when a 2006 amendment to its state constitution -- endorsed by 57 percent of its voters in a referendum -- defined marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman.
Prohibitions on same-sex marriage have fallen in several states since June 2013 when the US Supreme Court ruled that wedded same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights and benefits as their straight counterparts.
Same-sex marriages are legal in 19 other states plus the District of Columbia -- but they remain prohibited in about 30 other states, notably in the more conservative South.