Penna. court may legalize gay marriage today

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has given notice that he will issue a decision by close of business today (Tuesday, May 20, 2014) on the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s gay-marriage-banning “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), and on the state’s overall refuse to wed gay couples.

Because of the 17-court winning streak gay civil rights advocates have enjoyed since the Supreme Court’s momentous decision last June in US v. Windsor, a decision which struck down a section of the federal DOMA, hopes are high for an 18th victory today.

Just yesterday, a federal judge in Oregon legalized gay nuptials in that state, and gay couples immediately began to get married by the state.

The plaintiffs in Pennslyvania, along with their families.

The plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, along with their families.

The Pennsylvania suit, Whitewood, et al. v. Wolf, et al., was filed on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians (one plaintiff is a woman whose wife died last year) who either want to marry in Pennsylvania or have their out-of-state marriages recognized by the state of the Pennsylvania.  The ACLU, one of the counsels in the case, has more:

The lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act and refusal to marry lesbian and gay couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This lawsuit comes in the wake of the ACLU’s victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which requires federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples who are married in their home states. Plaintiffs argue that the court should closely scrutinize this discriminatory treatment because the state’s Defense of Marriage Act burdens the fundamental right to marry and because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation.

Eighteen states – CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, and WA – plus Washington, D.C. now have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

I cannot overstate the brilliance that was the Supreme Court’s decision last year in US v. Windsor.  While gay civil rights advocates were disappointed that the Windsor decision “only” struck down DOMA, rather than legalizing gay marriages nationwide, Windsor ended up being a brilliant move tactically.  The decision was so broad that it basically required state and federal courts across the land to find in favor of gay-marriage advocates. But, the decision stopped short of simply declaring victory nationwide.  Instead, it required advocates in each state to file suit, so that our victories would happen piecemeal, one by one, state by state. This made each individual victory, while still joyous, less threatening at the same time, as for most Americans it was happening “over there” in another state. This not only gave Americans time to let the victories sink in, to let the concept of “gay couples getting married” sink in, but it also is leading to a sense of inevitability, which will eventually make a 50-state victory on marriage a gradual long-drawn-out yawn rather than a casus belli for the majority of the population.

By ensuring that we win marriage in rather quick baby steps — we’ve had 17 consecutive victories in court since DOMA was struck down less than a year ago — the Supreme Court’s majority appears to have effectively avoided turning Windsor into Roe, at least so far.

The ACLU did a great job profiling the plaintiffs to the suit, here they are:

pennsylvania-gay-marriage-plantiffs-2 pennsylvania-gay-marriage-plantiffs-1


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  • Eric Bohlman

    With an additional four states ordered to recognize out-of-state marriages.

  • Stephen – DE

    It’s legal!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    If it was just NOM, they’d be turned down based on the standing precedents set by Hollingsworth v Perry. But I’m guessing Corbett and his hand-picked state and county defendants will go ahead and appeal.

  • FLL

    The district judge in Pennsylvania followed the trend that you mentioned earlier, and he did not stay his order, which means marriage equality in Pennsylvania begins now. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if the 3rd Circuit refused NOM’s inevitable request for a stay of the district court order? Heads at NOM would explode.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Oh — just ran into a fascinating statistic in Businessweek: Pennsylvania marks the 25th state overall where same sex marriage has been judged or legislated as legal.

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-05-20/pennsylvania-gay-marriage-ban-tossed-as-states-now-evenly-split

  • Ryan

    I’ve wanted PA in particular to legalize marriage equality for aesthetic reasons. It looked wrong to have New York, New Jersey, and Maryland one color and Pennsylvania another.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    As FLL reported, it’s done: We won again.

  • FLL

    It looks like the district judge in Pennsylvania just overturned the marriage ban. I’ve noticed the recent pattern of district judges refusing to stay their orders. I’ve also noticed that the first thing the opposition does at that point is to ask the appeals court to stay the district court’s order, which I think they usually do. In any case, the district judge in Pennsylvania has just handed down a pro-equality order, so I guess same-sex marriages begin now.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Yeah, but Governor Snyder is likely to install an ‘emergency marriage manager’, a petty dictator who gets final say in all marriages in the state. :)

  • Zorba

    Yes. We have a good friend who is a professor at Penn State and he has always maintained that State College, PA is basically in the midst of a very, very conservative and largely rural central PA.
    Sounds pretty much like Western Maryland, which is very conservative, much to my chagrin since we live there. Thank goodness most of the rest of MD is Blue.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Actually, according the articles I’ve seen, whichever side loses, an appeal to the 3rd Circuit is expected.

    However, we’ll see what happens. The developing pattern lately has been for these judges to deny a stay on their rulings to overturn the bans.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    True, and as most of us know, DOMA itself wasn’t actually completely overturned. Just the Federal recognition part. The other part that said states were free to define marriage as they like was left untouched, although the language of the Windsor ruling was such that the continued bans became immediately suspect under equal protection.

    The brilliance, as it were, was how Windsor could only be interpreted one way by the lower courts, which must give deference to SCOTUS rulings. But it also made things as difficult as possible for the homphobes:

    – It’s ridiculously easy to establish standing to challenge the bans anywhere, just find a few gay or lesbian couples whose attorneys can easily list which Federal (and state) rights, benefits, and legal privileges are being denied.
    – It’s almost impossible for non-governmental anti-gay activists to establish standing to defend the bans.
    – And even in those states that are willing and able to defend their bans, they can’t come up with anything other than the anti-gay animus and ridiculous baseless assertions (tradition, procreation, the bogus Regnerus ‘study’, being gay is just an immoral choice) that used to be persuasive, but aren’t anymore.

    Would I have preferred a sweeping, nationwide ruling? Sure. But on the other hand, had the Supreme Court done so, I do think we would have faced a Roe v Wade-like strategy from the anti-gay side, where they’d pick a few states and try to find some way to carve out an exception, create separate-but-unequal marriages, or something along those lines. Unlike the current situation where groups like NOM, FRC and the rest can’t even muster a competent defense of the bans.

    Hell, here in New Mexico, the bigots last summer were all worked up about trying to pass a law or amendment or do something to stop the dam from breaking, or to turn it back after the court rulings. Now? It’s not even in the news these days. It’s like the majority of people are realizing that while marriage rights are a huge deal for these gay and lesbian couples and their families, it’s an utter non-issue for straights. Doesn’t affect them at all, and the anti-gay fear-mongering was for nothing.

    The fight ain’t over, but the pro-gay side is way more motivated to win than the bigots will ever be.

  • FLL

    It seems that Oregon is a permanent 18th member of the group because the State of Oregon won’t defend the marriage ban, and it’s too late for anyone else to. But won’t the State of Pennsylvania immediately appeal to the 3rd Circuit Court, and ask for (and probably receive) a stay?

  • Elijah Shalis

    The work goes on. I can’t wait for it to be legal here in Michigan. I am excited for the possibilities.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Pennsylvania was my original home state, and it’s always been on that teetering edge between the conservative South and the conservative Midwest. Much of it has to do with the split between the urban areas — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Bethlehem/Allentown, Scranton — and the rest which is rural.

    Anyway, my fingers are crossed that one day I could possibly travel back there, back home, and not have my marriage be invalidated as soon as my wife and I cross the border.

  • matt227

    Windsor was not “brilliant” for not ordering states to issue licenses. It simply was not the issue in the case.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It is a fun friendly word, isn’t it?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s ok, as I didn’t check the judge’s gender, so it’s a fair point :)

  • BLFJboy

    Another one bites the dust. Exciting times. Here in Oregon it happened yesterday.

  • pappyvet

    I like that word “nuptial” it’s such a friendly word.

  • http://data.inquirer.com/thetalk Dan Rubin

    you’re right. forget that last helpful suggestion.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Hmm… then why did they say Judge Jones will release the decision today?

  • http://data.inquirer.com/thetalk Dan Rubin

    That he is a she. U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin

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