Timetable Accelerated in ACLU and Hangley Aronchick Challenge to PA’s Marriage Ban

April 21, 2014
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Both Sides Agree No Need for June Trial

HARRISBURG, PA – Lawyers challenging Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples filed a motion today asking a federal judge to decide the case on the briefs alone rather than waiting for a previously scheduled June trial. The lawsuit,Whitewood v. Wolf, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, and University of Pennsylvania School of Law Professor Seth Kreimer on behalf of a widow, 11 couples who wish to marry in Pennsylvania or want the commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages, and two teenage children of one of the plaintiff couples.

“It’s difficult to explain to our five-year-old son why his parents are not married. I hope that we will be able to marry in Pennsylvania before our younger child is old enough to ask the same questions,” said Diana Polson, one of the plaintiffs.

“Every single time we cross the Delaware River to come home, my heart drops a little as I remember that here, in our home, we are not married,” said Plaintiff David Palmer. Palmer and Ed Hill got married in Maine after 25 years together but are not recognized as married in Pennsylvania.

A trial became unnecessary after the commonwealth stated that it will not call any experts to counter the plaintiffs’ argument that there is no rational reason why lesbian and gay couples are excluded from marriage, nor does it plan to dispute the specific harms caused to the plaintiffs by the marriage ban. All legal papers in the case will be filed by May 12, meaning a ruling could come at any time after that date.

“We are pleased that this case will be moving forward quickly. Our clients have waited long enough for the state to recognize the love and commitment that these couples have for each other,” said John S. Stapleton, of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.

Along with the motion, today’s filing included written testimony from six experts, including a report on the legal disadvantages that same-sex couples face in estate planning, taxes, health care, and family law in Pennsylvania because they cannot marry or have their marriages from other states respected by Pennsylvania. The motion also includes another expert report about the economic harms to the state’s economy and businesses caused by the commonwealth’s failure to allow same-sex couples to marry or to recognize their marriages from other states.

“These plaintiffs are as devoted to each other as any other married couples and their families deserve the protections that come with marriage,” said Witold Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director. “Today we have provided the court with moving personal stories from all of our plaintiff families describing how this ban hurts them and their loved ones. We hope the judge will see the profound harm caused by this law and strike it down.”

On July 9, 2013, the ACLU and Hangley Aronchick filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Pennsylvania’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry or recognize their marriages from other states violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs include 11 couples, two minor children of one of those couples, and one widow who lost her partner of 29 years just before the case was filed. The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Deb and Susan Whitewood of Bridgeville, Pa. (Allegheny County), along with their teenage daughters, Abbey and Katie. Their family also includes their three-year-old son Landon.

“In our filing, the court will have before it an overwhelming amount of evidence demonstrating that the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania is nothing to fear and everything to celebrate, and that there is no reason in law, logic, facts, and basic justice, to hesitate any longer in recognizing the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights,” said Mark Aronchick, of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, co-counsel with the ACLU.

The Honorable John E. Jones III is presiding over the case. The commonwealth, which has agreed there is no need for a trial, is expected to file its own motion for summary judgment today.

Lawyers involved in the case include Walczak, Mary Catherine Roper, and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; James Esseks, and Leslie Cooper of the of the ACLU LGBT Project; Aronchick, Stapleton, Helen Casale, Dylan J. Steinberg, and Rebecca S. Melley of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, expert reports, and an FAQ about today’s motion, along with other information about the case, are available at: www.aclupa.org/whitewood