A federal judge heard arguments on Tuesday on a lawsuit seeking to overturn Virginia's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage after the state's attorney general said he would not defend the ban.
The hearing in Norfolk was the latest in a series of state-based challenges of gay marriage, which has gained increasing acceptance around the United States in recent years.
After hearing oral arguments, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright told attorneys she would take the case under advisement and rule very soon. Tuesday's hearing was the first in the case.
Two same-sex couples have asked Wright to strike down the state's ban on gay marriage or to order it suspended.
The lawsuit, Bostic v. Rainey, argues that the prohibition violates guarantees under the U.S. Constitution, including equal protection of the law and for due process.
The hearing came less than two weeks after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said the state's ban went against the U.S. Constitution. He said neither he nor State Registrar of Vital Records Janet Rainey would defend it as constitutional.
Giving a further boost to a repeal of the same-sex ban, a federal judge in Harrisonburg, Virginia, expanded a lawsuit brought by two lesbian couples into a class-action suit on Friday. The lawsuit would cover same-sex couples in Virginia who might want to marry.
Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, including eight states where it became legal in 2013. Thirty-three ban same-sex couples from marrying by constitutional amendment, statute, or both.
In 2006, 57 percent of Virginians voted for the constitutional amendment imposing the ban. But reflecting the reversal in public opinion, a poll released in October by Virginia's Christopher Newport University showed that 56 percent of likely voters opposed the ban, while 36 percent favored it.
Gay marriage received a boost last year when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The high court also paved the way for gay marriage to resume in California. But those rulings did not address whether state bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional.
Federal judges have overturned such bans in Oklahoma and Utah.
Indiana is pushing ahead with its own prohibition.