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.