Federal judge rules same-sex marriage ban in Pennsylvania unconstitutional

Posted at 3:29 PM, May 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-20 15:29:45-04

(CNN) — A federal judge Tuesday struck down Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution.

With the ruling, the Keystone State joins a host of others in which judges have struck down existing laws restricting marriage to between one man and one woman. All such decisions have been stayed, pending appeals.

“Because these laws are unconstitutional, we shall enter an order permanently enjoining their enforcement,” U.S. District Judge John E. Jones wrote of Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage restrictions. “By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

In May, same-sex marriage advocates who filed the lawsuit and lawyers for the state asked the judge to decide the case without a trial in what is called a summary judgment.

The ACLU, a widow, 11 couples and two of their teenage children filed the Pennsylvania lawsuit in July, claiming that a 1996 state law that prohibits same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania officials, represented by a private attorney after the state’s attorney general declined to defend the law, argued in court filings that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require the state to recognize same-sex marriages and that the plaintiffs can’t show that they’ve been harmed by the law.

“Try as they might, Plaintiffs cannot identify concrete state action by these Defendants that allegedly has caused them harm,” attorneys for the state wrote in court filings. “Instead, as they have done throughout these proceedings, Plaintiffs rely primarily on speculation and conjecture with regard to harm that may occur in the future.”

The ACLU, of course, differed, saying plaintiffs filed written testimony from experts detailing disadvantages faced by same-sex Pennsylvania couples in areas ranging from estate planning to taxes, health care and family law.

“These plaintiffs are as devoted to each other as any other married couples and their families deserve the protections that come with marriage,” the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director Witold Walczak said in an April statement.

The lawsuit, and others like it, followed the June U.S. Supreme ruling that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. The decision also cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Since then, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois have enacted laws allowing for same-sex marriage. New Mexico’s Supreme Court also issued a ruling allowing same-sex marriages, bringing to 17 the number of states in which gays and lesbians are allowed to wed. Colorado allows civil unions.

Courts have ruled that laws banning same-sex marriage in Arkansas, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas and Michigan are unconstitutional, but those decisions are being appealed.

CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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