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Gay marriage advocates were hopeful after a Democratic sweep of the state’s top three offices in November, led by Mr. McAuliffe. But Republican control of the House of Delegates made any legislative change to Virginia’s constitutional amendment unlikely.

Virginia now joins Utah and Oklahoma in having voter-approved prohibitions on same-sex marriage lifted when federal courts intervened. It’s the first state in the former Confederacy in which gay marriage would be legalized.

A federal judge also said this week that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that while he wouldn’t speak about cases the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not take up in the future, “the president supports, as he’s made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy.”

“And his views on same-sex marriage were, I think, very powerfully expressed,” Mr. Carney said. “And he feels gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue and the change in perspective that I think we’ve seen evolve across the country in a rather remarkable amount of time and [a] remarkably short amount of time.

“Which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights tend to play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as they have.”

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in states, as unconstitutional. Mr. Herring said the Constitution is “the law of the land” and a state law and state constitution cannot trump it.

Seventeen states and the District have legalized same-sex marriage, while 29 states have constitutional amendments banning it.

The federal case involves four plaintiffs. Timothy Bostic and Tony London applied for a marriage license from the Norfolk circuit court clerk on July 1, but were denied. Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who have lived in Virginia since 1982, were married in California in 2008 and want their marriage to be recognized in the commonwealth.