Judge Rules for Marriage Equality in Pennsylvania

By: Trudy Ring
5.21.2014

Earlier this week Oregon, and now Pennsylvania: A federal judge has ruled that the latter’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

In the latest of a string of marriage equality victories, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones struck down the Keystone State’s 1996 state law defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution, according to several media outlets and activist groups.

Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane refused to defend the ban, but Gov. Tom Corbett brought in lawyers to take up the defense. If Corbett does not appeal, Pennsylvania would be the 19th state with marriage equality, and nearly 44 percent of the U.S. population would live in states where same-sex couples have the right to marry, notes the Human Rights Campaign.

Another national group, Freedom to Marry, praised the ruling, with its president, Evan Wolfson, releasing this statement: “Today’s win in Pennsylvania finally brings the freedom to marry to the entire Northeast. Loving and committed couples and their families in the nation’s sixth largest state will be able to share in the joy, security and dignity that come with the freedom to marry. The stone that was once left out has become the keystone, and now it's time to finish the job nationwide.”

Pennsylvania, unlike many other states, had not written the ban into its state constitution but only into statute. A suit brought on behalf of state residents by the American Civil Liberties Union, its Pennsylvania affiliate, and private attorneys claimed that the ban violated the guarantees of equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Judge Jones agreed.

“The issue we resolve today is a divisive one,” he wrote. “Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of 'separate but equal.'” 

He noted that in the 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for integration in Brown v. Board of Education, “'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage.” Of discriminatory laws, he concluded, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

The ACLU is organizing celebratory rallies around the state tonight, with events scheduled in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Erie. Check here for more information.

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