Supporters of the state ban on same-sex marriages issued statements decrying Wright Allen's ruling.
"It appears that we have yet another example of an arrogant judge substituting her personal preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council.
Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, called the ruling "another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the Constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage, in defiance of the people of Virginia."
In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast. None of them is in the old Confederacy.
Opponents of the Virginia ban say the issue resonates in Virginia in particular because of a landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple and interracial marriage.
Mildred and Richard Loving were married in Washington, D.C., and lived in Virginia when police raided their home in 1958 and charged them with violating the state's Racial Integrity law. They were convicted but prevailed before the Supreme Court.
During verbal arguments in the gay marriage case, Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael said that ban is legally indistinguishable from the one on interracial marriage. He said the arguments used to defend the ban now are the same ones used back then, including that marriage between two people of the same sex has never been historically allowed. Wright Allen concurred with that assessment in her ruling.
"Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage," she wrote.
In defending the law, the attorney for the Norfolk clerk said the issue is best left for the General Assembly and the voters to decide.
Attorney General Herring, in a news conference Friday, said his decision not to defend the ban was "consistent with the rule of law."
"Although this process is far from over, it remains a great day for equality in Virginia," he said.
Nationwide, there are more than a dozen states with federal lawsuits challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.