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Richmond couple says gay marriage is ‘next great civil rights movement’

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- The United States Supreme Court began hearing arguments Tuesday in the first of two cases involving the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Justices are weighing the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a voter approved measure that bans same- sex marriage.

While supporters and opponents of marriage equality held signs and protested outside the high court, Apryl and Adrian Prentiss watched from a distance in Richmond.

The Prentisses were married in a religious ceremony in 2007, but wanted to wait to legally marry until same-sex marriage was recognized in Virginia.

“We just want to enjoy the same rights as everyone else,” Apryl Prentiss says. “We view this as the next great civil rights movement,” says Adrian Prentiss.

In 2006, Virginia voters passed a constitutional amendment, similar to California’s, that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The amendment also bans the recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions performed in other states.

By June, the couple are hoping for a landmark decision in the Supreme Court that will force several states that have adopted constitutional amendments to change their laws.

“We’re hoping and praying for that to happen,” says Apryl Prentiss.

Former Virginia Deputy Attorney General Claire Gastanaga says a Supreme Court ruling extending marriage rights to all same-sex couples would force Virginia to alter its laws.

However, Gastanaga believes a sweeping ruling might not happen in the case currently before the court.

During 80 minutes of arguments Tuesday, the justices hinted that they wouldn’t use this case to deliver a landmark decision on whether same-sex couples have the right to marry.

“There are a number of different ways that they can resolve this case without getting into the fundamental question of whether the constitution guarantees everybody full marriage equality,” Gastanaga says.

Gastanaga says she’s hopeful, however, that the high court will eventually make a decision that will extend the right to marry to all couples.

The Prentinsses are also optimistic that they’ll eventually be given the rights enjoyed by other married couples.

“Giving same-sex couples marriage rights is not taking away anybody else’s rights,” Adrian Prentiss argues. “It’s only adding to the rights of others.”