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Matt Dunning

Federal court overturns Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban

May 21, 2014 - 12:25pm

Pennsylvania Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Nancy Lawrence, center, 62, of Erie, holds a sign in support of marriage equality in Pennsylvania during a rally at Perry Square in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, May 20. About 150 people turned out to celebrate a federal judge's overturning of Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage.


For the second time in as many days, a state-level ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned in federal court.

Pennsylvania's statutory prohibition of same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples' due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by denying them their fundamental right to marry and the attendant protections and benefits afforded to married opposite-sex couples under state law, according to a 39-page opinion handed down late Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

“That same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional,” U.S. District Judge John Jones III wrote in the closing paragraphs of his ruling. “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.'”

“We are better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” Judge Jones concluded.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced at the beginning of the lawsuit filed by in July 2013 that her office would not defend the state's 1996 law banning same-sex marriage, praised Judge Jones' ruling in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“Today brings justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation,” Ms. Kane said in her statement. “When state-sponsored inequality exists, citizens are deprived of the full protections that the Constitution guarantees.”

Gov. Tom Corbett announced late Wednesday afternoon that his administration will not appeal the ruling, effectively making Pennsylvania the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

“Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” Gov. Corbett said in a statement. “The court has spoken, and I will ensure that my administration follows the provisions of Judge Jones' order with respect for all parties.”

Judge Jones issued his ruling just one day after a federal judge in Oregon similarly overturned that state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, making Pennsylvania the 11th state so far to have such prohibitions wholly or partially struck down by federal courts.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor — which invalidated provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman — state-level bans on same-sex marriage have been wholly overturned in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Idaho and now Pennsylvania, while bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana have been partially overturned.

Additionally, a state court judge in Arkansas overturned that state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

 



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