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Federal judge overturns Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban (updated)

BY MARYCLAIRE DALE
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters — courageous.

"We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage," Jones wrote.

An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely. Gov. Tom Corbett's office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.

State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage. If Jones' decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th and legalize gay marriage throughout the Northeast.

Click here for updates.

From Freedom to Marry:

New York – Today U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Judge Jones is the 14th federal judge in recent months to rule against marriage discrimination.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, released the following 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."

The case was filed in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania. A recent poll found that 56% of Pennsylvanians support the freedom to marry.

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Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide. We are pursuing our Roadmap to Victory by working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. We partner with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.

From HRC:

Ban on Marriage Equality Struck Down in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania becomes the tenth state where a federal judge has struck down a marriage ban since historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions last year

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III ruled that Pennsylvania’s law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional.  Pennsylvania becomes the tenth state where a federal judge has struck down a marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court issued their two marriage-related rulings last year. Just yesterday a federal judge in Oregon struck down that state’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Given the state’s decision not to appeal the ruling, Oregon became the eighteenth where committed and loving gay and lesbian couples can legally marry.  In response to today’s news out of Pennsylvania, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin issued the following statement:

“Today a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush became the latest to uphold the most sacred ideals of this nation and our Constitution – that justice and equality matter above all else. It seems that every passing day brings LGBT Americans a new victory in our unwavering march toward justice.  And thanks to our friends at the ACLU of PA and ACLU National, the attorneys of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, and the proud plaintiffs who brought this case, the inescapable reality of full equality under the law is now one step closer.”

Whitewood v. Wolf was filed on July 9, 2013 by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the ACLU and counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians seeking the right to marry or for the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages.  The suit challenges a law passed by the state legislature in 1996 that restricts marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

In July of 2013, state attorney general Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state’s marriage ban.  If PA Gov. Tom Corbett decides not to appeal today’s ruling, the Keystone State would become the nineteenth state with marriage equality, plus Washington, D.C.  With Pennsylvania, nearly 44 percent of Americans would live in states where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry.

To date there have been at least six marriage cases filed in Pennsylvania, two in federal court and four in state court.  Pennsylvania was the only remaining state in the Northeast without marriage equality.  A March 2014 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality.

In today’s ruling, Judge Jones wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

Whitewood is one of over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country.  These cases have been filed in 29 states plus Puerto Rico and account for hundreds of plaintiffs taking on state marriage bans.  So far five federal appeals courts are presiding over nine marriage equality cases over the coming weeks and months.  Same-sex couples can legally marry in eighteen states and the District of Columbia, while 32 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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