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Same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional in Pennsylvania

May 20, 2014 - Ben Klein

-"Therefore there is no reason to grant them the costly benefits of marriage unless such couples serve some other state interest."

-"If the state must recognize marriage of two men or two women simply because they love one another, then what basis can it deny recognition to polygamy, or a sterile brother and sister who claim to love one another." Father John Neff is the Pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church, Youngsville and St. Anthony of Padua Church, Sheffield.

-"A full court press is underway to promote gay-related advertising in the least offensive way possible using normal-looking gay people doing normal things so that the public no longer does a double-take at people identified as gays. Father John Neff, Pastor St. Luke Catholic Church, Youngsville St. Anthony of Padua Church, Sheffield 02/11/14

-"We're being forced by the other side to go forward with this issue," she said. "If the Supreme Court tries to redefine marriage (to allow same-sex unions) that would open the door wide to anything. We need to take a stand and say marriage is between one man and one woman.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp, May 2013

"I feel marriage is Biblical," she said. "The family was ordained by God Himself. I think when you have children, the optimal situation is to have a mother and a father."

-Gov. Tom Corbett, asked about a statement his lawyers made in a recent court filing, comparing the marriage of gay couples to the marriage of children because neither can legally wed in the state.

"It was an inappropriate analogy, you know," Corbett said in the interview aired on Friday. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you? Gov. Tom Corbett, 9/4/2013

-"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” Judge Jones wrote at the end of his 39-page opinion.

Associated Press - The law barring same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional, a federal judge based in Harrisburg ruled today.

“By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth,” wrote U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III.

The ruling comes in a case filed in July by 11 gay couples, two teenage children of one of the pairs and a widow. The couples include Deb and Susan Whitewood of South Fayette, Diana Polson and Dawn Plummer of Point Breeze, and Lynn and Fredia Hurdle, of Crafton Heights.

It overturns, definitively and with rhetorical flourish, the 18-year-old state Defense of Marriage Act.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” Judge Jones wrote at the end of his 39-page opinion.

“Based on the foregoing, we hold that Pennsylvania’s Marriage Laws violate both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because these laws are unconstitutional, we shall enter an order permanently enjoining their enforcement,” the judge wrote.

“It’s such a huge concept to know that you’re legal, that we got validated, that when they go to school they can say they have two moms, and it’s nothing different than if they said they had a mom and a dad in their household,” said Susan Whitewood, immediately after receiving the news.

“Today, certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not guaranteed the right to marry the person they love,” Judge Jones wrote. “Nor does Pennsylvania recognize the marriages of other couples who have wed elsewhere. Hoping to end this injustice, eleven courageous lesbian and gay couples, one widow, and two teenage children of one of the aforesaid couples have come together as plaintiffs and asked this Court to declare that all Pennsylvanians have the right to marry the person of their choice and consequently, that the Commonwealth’s laws to the contrary are unconstitutional.”

The judge continued: “Encompassed within the right to liberty is the fundamental right to marry.”

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Philadelphia firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, some of the plaintiffs demanded that Pennsylvania recognize gay marriages forged in other states, while others sought to tie the knot in their home states.

The defendants are state Health Secretary Michael Wolf, Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser and Donald Petrille Jr., Bucks County register of wills. Gov. Tom Corbett was originally a defendant, but was dropped from the case because his office doesn’t directly administer marriage-related state functions.

Though the attorney general would normally defend against a challenge to a state law’s constitutionality, Kathleen Kane refused to fight to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. That left the defense to the Office of General Counsel, which reports to Gov. Corbett. The office hired former state Supreme Court Justice William H. Lamb.

The ACLU and plaintiffs sought to expand upon the language of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Windsor v United States, which struck down the federal ban on recognition of gay marriages.

The defense countered that Windsor just reinforced states’ rights to decide who can and can’t marry. They argued that the General Assembly needs only to have a “rational basis” to enact a law, and that at the Defense of Marriage Act’s 1996 passage lawmakers spoke out for “promotion of procreation ... child rearing and the well-being of children ... tradition" and their concern that "redefining marriage would detrimentally affect Pennsylvania businesses economically."

The ACLU then contended that the real basis for the act was prejudice, which can’t be rational.

Only the plaintiffs retained experts to bolster their case. Both sides agreed in April that there were no factual disputes to work out at trial, so Judge Jones could just decide the legal issues.

“Defendants have failed to carry their burden, and we conclude that the classification imposed by the Marriage Laws based on sexual orientation is not substantially related to an important governmental interest. Accordingly, we hold that the Marriage Laws violate the principles of equal protection and are therefore unconstitutional,” Judge Jones wrote.

Same-sex marriages made in other states must also be recognized, he ruled, writing that “non-recognition law robs those of the Plaintiffs who are already married of their fundamental liberty interest in the legal recognition of their marriages in Pennsylvania.”

The judge’s decision can be appealed, and observers believe that within a year or two the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage nationally.

In 18 other states, federal or state judges have knocked down bans on same-sex marriage, and all of those decisions except one in Oregon are under appeal. Another 17 states, plus Washington, D.C., already allow marriage for same-sex couples.

Only four states have bans on same-sex marriage that are not being challenged in courts.


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