PA Gay-Marriage Ban Relegated to 'Ash Heap'
(CN) - Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he will not appeal a finding that Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The announcement comes one day after U.S. District Judge John Jones III made Pennsylvania the 13th state where federal courts have overturned bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
Citing this country's history on racial equality, Jones rejected the notion that citizens can prohibit same-sex marriage simply because it makes them "uncomfortable."
"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," Jones wrote Tuesday.
Deb and Susan Whitewood are the lead plaintiffs of the Pennsylvania action, brought along with 10 other lesbian and gay couples, the Whitwoods' two teenage daughters, and one widow.
Judge Jones noted that Pennsylvania had been one of 14 states to hamper the rights of the gay community in 1996 after Hawaii held its own ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Another 11 states also trumpeted marriage inequality in 1997, according to the ruling.
Pennsylvania's marriage laws had "the effect of preventing same-sex couples from marrying in Pennsylvania and nullifying the marriages of same-sex couples legally married elsewhere for purposes of recognition in the commonwealth," the 41-page opinion states.
Celebrating the diversity of the plaintiffs, Jones noted that "they hail from across the state ... [and] come from all walks of life."
"They include a nurse, state employees, lawyers, doctors, an artist, a newspaper delivery person, a corporate executive, a dog trainer, university professors, and a stay-at-home parent," he added. "They have served our country in the Army and Navy. Plaintiffs' personal backgrounds reflect a richness and diversity: they are African-American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian; they are Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Quaker, Buddhist, and secular. In terms of age, they range from a couple in their 30s with young children, to retirees in their 60s. Many of the couples have been together for decades.
"As plainly reflected in the way they live their lives, the plaintiff couples are spouses in every sense, except that the laws of the commonwealth prevent them from being recognized as such."
Among the difficulties with which Pennsylvania's marriage laws have saddled the couples are a 15 percent inheritance tax and "long, expensive, and humiliating" adoption processes to create legal ties with the children they have raised.
"The plaintiff couples have supported each other through illness and medical emergencies," Jones wrote. "Yet, because Pennsylvania considers them legal strangers, they may be left vulnerable in times of crisis."
Citing the Supreme Court's landmark decision last year that provisions of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional, Jones granted the plaintiffs summary judgment against Pennsylvania's marriage laws.
The judge took affront at Pennsylvania's claims that no plaintiff could prove that state actions caused them, or could caused them, harm.
In addition to "stigmatizing harms," Jones noted that the "plaintiffs suffer a multitude of daily harms, for instance, in the areas of childrearing, healthcare, taxation, and end-of-life planning."
The ruling emphasizes the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment protects "the fundamental right to marry" as encompassing "the right to marry a person of one's own sex."
The state interests Pennsylvania cited in defense of its marriage laws simply aren't up to snuff, Jones concluded.
"In sum, 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," he wrote. "Accordingly, we hold that the marriage laws violate the principles of equal protection and are therefore unconstitutional."
The American Civil Liberties Union and its Pennsylvania chapter applauded Gov. Corbett's decision not to appeal.
They brought the case alongside volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, and University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer.
The striking down of Pennsylvania's ban came just one day after a federal judge in Oregon delivered a similar ruling .