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Judge signals quick action in same-sex marriage challenge

The Norfolk federal judge hearing the first of two challenges to Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban appears eager to decide the issue now that the state has switched sides to oppose the ban. At least one voice in the case remains in support of the ban.

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen on Thursday asked the parties whether she should “rule promptly on the briefs without a hearing.” She also questioned whether others might carry on the defense of the same-sex marriage ban.

Wright Allen gave the parties one day to comment on the need for the hearing now scheduled for Thursday of this week.

Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George W. Schaefer III said in court papers he will continue to argue in favor of the same-sex marriage ban, but he had no objection to a decision without a hearing.

State lawyers urged Wright Allen to go ahead with the hearing. The decision will be a “landmark ruling in Virginia on one of the most important civil rights issues of our time,” wrote Solicitor General Stuart A. Raphael. “Permitting oral argument both comports with the dignity and seriousness of the issues and will obviate any concern that the losing parties were not given a fair opportunity to be heard,” Raphael said.

The state objected to a request last week by Liberty Counsel to file a friend of the court brief, saying the advocacy group has waited too long to add its voice to the forum.

Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle B. McQuigg hopes to be allowed to join the case in support of the ban on gay marriage. Represented by lawyers from the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, McQuigg said she is ready to take up the state’s prior arguments now abandoned by Attorney General Mark Herring.

The plaintiffs in the case, two gay couples, say they are ready for the judge to rule, but they do not object to holding the Thursday hearing.

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