Judge strikes down Pennsylvania law barring gay marriage

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania Tue May 20, 2014 7:49pm EDT

1 of 3. Gay rights supporters hold a rally on the Pennsylvania State Capital steps after a ruling struck down a ban on same sex marriage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Makela

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge on Tuesday in the latest court decision in the United States confirming gay couples' rights to wed.

Finding Pennsylvania's 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III wrote: "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."

The ruling makes Pennsylvania the 19th U.S. state where gay marriage is allowed, a movement that has gained momentum since the Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits.

Most recent court rulings allowing gay marriage have included a stay pending appeal, but Jones' ruling does not.

There is, however, a three-day waiting period for all weddings in Pennsylvania.

The judge noted the issue of gay marriage "is a divisive one" that makes some people "deeply uncomfortable."

"However, that same sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional," he wrote. "Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection."

He compared Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage to school segregation laws overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," he wrote.

The legal challenge to Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Law was filed last July by several gay couples.

Challengers argued that under the ban, gay couples were denied an inheritance tax exemption for surviving spouses and survivor benefits to partners of police officers killed in the line of duty.

"This is a momentous day for our clients and all same-sex couples in Pennsylvania who want to have their love and commitment to each other recognized in the same way as that of other couples," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which was involved in the case.

The state has 30 days to decide whether to appeal, the ACLU said.

The National Organization for Marriage, which argues marriage is the union of a man and a woman, called the ruling "brazen and unjust" and said it would like to see the issue decided by voters.

"The ruling unilaterally makes an end-run around the democratic process and places the capricious will of one man above the desires of millions of citizens," said Brian Brown, NOM president, in a statement.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced after the lawsuit was filed that she would not defend the case, prompting calls for impeachment from conservative legislators.

On Tuesday, Kane tweeted: "Today, in Pennsylvania, the Constitution prevailed. Inequality in any form is unacceptable and it has never stood the test of time."

Governor Tom Corbett appointed William Lamb, a fellow Republican and former prosecutor, to handle the case.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, G Crosse, Gunna Dickson and Eric Walsh)

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Comments (18)
2tellthetruth wrote:
One by one, justice gets done.

May 20, 2014 3:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gcf1965 wrote:
I see raptor was feeling a little insecure today so had to come out and show an unparalleled level of ignorance and immaturity. How can one argue for their viewpoint with such profound stupidity?

May 20, 2014 3:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
thereyUgo wrote:
I don’t understand how an issue that for the entire history of mankind has condemned as immoral.Is now being forced on society as acceptable by a legal system who has no right to strike down laws put in place by the majority of society in which determines what is to be moral. None of these law are discriminatory. All people can marry. These laws are here to stop behavior that is deemed perverse by society. The legal system has no authority to over turn laws that have been enacted by a voting majority of the public. They have a sworn constitutional duty to enforce these laws as they are written not whether their in agreement. There is a process for changing law. And until a majority of society decides the immoral behavior is acceptable I urge all in agreement with the law to ignore the courts and follow the law and the will of the people. It is time to put the court in its place. The people of this nation are in charge not the government or courts. This country fought against these thing more than 200 years ago. We need to stop going backwards. We now live in a country with one of the most corrupt governments and legal system on the planet. The only difference between us and the rest of the world is they don’t hide it as well.

May 20, 2014 3:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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