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U.S. appeals court declines to block Virginia gay marriage ruling

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday declined to delay its ruling striking down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage, meaning gay people in the state will be able to get married unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond struck down the state ban in July. The state's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, who backs gay marriage, and opponents of same-sex marriage had asked the court to stay its ruling while the Supreme Court considered the case.

But in a brief order issued on Wednesday, the three-judge panel said it voted 2-1 to deny the requests. Herring's office said in a statement that gay marriages could commence as early as next Wednesday, when the ruling takes effect.

In a case concerning a similar ruling in Utah that struck down the ban in that state, the Supreme Court ultimately stayed the ruling pending further appeals.

Ken Connelly, a lawyer representing gay marriage opponents, said a stay request will be filed at the Supreme Court in the Virginia case "as soon as possible."

If the ruling is not stayed, the status of gay men and women who get married in Virginia would be unclear if the Supreme Court ultimately were to uphold the state's ban.

The Supreme Court is expected to take at least one gay marriage case in the coming term, which begins in October and ends in June.

Since the June 2013 ruling in the case United States v. Windsor striking down a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, nearly 30 federal and state courts have ruled against same-sex marriage bans at the state level. Only one court in the past 14 months has ruled in favor of a state ban.

Currently, a total 19 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Joan Biskupic; Editing by Will Dunham and Jim Loney)

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