United States District Court Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban earlier today on the basis that it is unconstitutional, reports The Wire. This move makes Pennsylvania the last of the Northeast states (New York, New Jersey, Maine, etc.) to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.
The ACLU originally filed the case, Whitewood v. Wolf, in the federal system on behalf of 21 Pennsylvania residents. It was done so only 17 days after the June 26, 2013 Supreme Court decision made in United States v. Windsor. That ruling, which effectively struck down large chunks of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), made it possible for same-sex couples to seek federal benefits. However, it left in place state-based bans on same-sex marriage, though it did pave the way for legitimate challenges like those outlined in Whitewood v. Wolf.
Many of the plaintiffs represented by the ACLU had already been same-sex married in other states, but desired that Pennsylvania (their home state) get rid of its own ban and recognize their marriages. Doing otherwise violated both their right to marry and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, or so they argued.
Judge John E. Jonas III agreed:
“The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. 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…’ In the sixty years since Brown was decided, ‘separate’ has thankfully faded into history, and only ‘equal’ remains. Similarly, in future generations, the label ‘same sex marriage’ will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by ‘marriage.'”
This decision follows multiple similar rulings in Arkansas, Idaho and Oregon. The only difference is that the judges in Arkansas and Idaho chose to ‘stay’ their decisions, whereas Judge Jonas did not. A ‘stay’ is basically an injunction that freezes court proceedings at a certain point. Because of this decision by Jonas, an appeal is likely to be made via the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Whether or not the appeal (if filed) will gain any traction remains to be seen.
Regardless, for the time being, same-sex couples in Pennsylvania are free to love and marry whomever they so choose.
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