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Official asks U.S. chief justice to block Virginia gay marriages

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A county clerk in Virginia on Thursday asked U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts to block an appeals court ruling that would allow gay marriages to go ahead for the first time in the state next week.

Lawyers for Michele McQuigg, Prince William County clerk of court, said they filed an emergency stay application at the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to prevent an appeals court ruling that struck down the state's ban on gay marriage from going into effect.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, invalidated the ban in a ruling issued on July 28. The court said on Thursday that the ruling would go into effect on Aug. 21 if the Supreme Court does not intervene.

Roberts, who has the responsibility of handling emergency applications from the Richmond-based appeals court, can either act on the application himself or refer the matter to the Supreme Court as a whole.

The state's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, who backs gay marriage, and opponents of same-sex marriage have already said they would like the U.S. Supreme Court to ultimately decide the case.

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

Without a stay of the Virginia ruling, the status of gay men and women who get married in the state 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.

Nineteen of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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