State ban on same-sex marriage struck down

Judge's ruling says that it is time to discard previous laws into the 'ash heap of history'

· May 20, 2014, 5:18 pm   ·  Updated May 21, 2014, 5:51 pm

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Pennsylvania has joined the ranks of states recognizing same sex marriage.

On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, rendering Pennsylvania the nineteenth state to embrace legalization.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III issued the decision, asserting in his opinion that “Plaintiffs suffer a multitude of daily harms, for instance, in the areas of child-rearing, healthcare, taxation and end of life planning.”

“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 at the conclusion of his 39-page ruling.

The decision came only a day after a federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

Penn Law School lecturers Fernando Chang-Muy and Len Rieser, who have been a couple for over 32 years, joined in a lawsuit with 21 other plaintiffs against the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, urging the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to reverse Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The plaintiffs were represented by a team of attorneys including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, volunteer counsel from the law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller and Penn Law professor Seth Kreimer.

Penn Law graduate John Stapleton and served as trial counsel for the plaintiffs.

"Judge Jones wrote the opinion in very clear language," Stapleton said of the decision. "It's an opinion the entire public can understand."

In July of 2013, Rieser said that one of the primary goals of the lawsuit is for the state to “acknowledge what it is,” — that they are a married couple.

After the ruling, Chang-Muy and Rieser can finally see legal acknowledgment of their relationship as a married couple.

"[Next] we're going to figure out how to get married," Rieser said.

Stapleton described the experience of representing the plaintiffs for the case as "everything I went to Penn Law School for."

"These are people who have been told for far too long that they are second-class citizens in the state," Stapleton said. "Yesterday Judge Jones ruled in an extremely convincing fashion that they are not second-class citizens — that they are entitled to the rights and protections laid out in the Constitution."

Under the state’s 1966 ban, same-sex marriage was prohibited in Pennsylvania, and same-sex marriages carried out legally in other states and countries were not recognized.

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

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, whose administration defended the law, has decided not to appeal the decision.

"I have thoroughly reviewed Judge Jones’ opinion in the Whitewood case. Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal," Corbett released in a statement. "Therefore, after review of the opinion and on the advice of my Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not to appeal Judge Jones’ decision."

The governor's decision means that same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania will remain legal. Couples who have rushed to apply for marriage licenses after Tuesday's ruling need not worry about the ban being reinstated by a higher court.

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