Federal Judge Strikes Down PA’s Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

May 20, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA - A federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples today on the grounds it unconstitutionally discriminates against lesbians and gay men. His order directs the commonwealth to allow same-sex couples to marry and to recognize valid out-of-state marriages.

The ruling came inWhitewood v. Wolf, a lawsuit 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.

The lawsuit was filed 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.

"We are overjoyed that we will finally be able to get married in our home state in front of our family and friends,” said Christine Donato, who has been in a committed relationship with Sandy Ferlanie for 17 years. They have a six-year-old son, Henry.

In his opinion, Judge John E. Jones III said, “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. We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

“The court, in a bell-ringing opinion, has explained in crystal clear language why the promises of our Constitution extend to all Pennsylvanians. We urge the commonwealth to take whatever steps are necessary to allow marriages to proceed and the celebrations to begin immediately. What a great day!” said Mark Aronchick of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.

The commonwealth has thirty days to decide whether to appeal.

“This is yet another win in a long line of rulings finding that denying same-sex couples the protections and dignity of marriage is unconstitutional,” said Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Across the country, Americans are embracing the idea that same-sex couples and their families deserve to be treated the same as other families.”

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to marry, and courts across the country, including those in Oklahoma, Utah, Arkansas, and Idaho, have struck down state laws banning marriage for same-sex couples.

“This is a momentous day for our clients and all same-sex couples in Pennsylvania who want to have their love and commitment to each other recognized in the same way as that of other couples,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

More information about theWhitewoodlawsuit, including the judge’s opinion, FAQs about the decision, and client profiles, can be found at: www.aclupa.org/whitewood.

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