U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III, issued his ruling in a lawsuit filed last July on behalf of 11 gay and lesbian couples and a widow who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.
“We are better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” wrote Jones in his 39-page decision.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers were quick to applaud the ruling.
“We as the Whitewood family are absolutely ecstatic about this decision,” said Deb Whitewood, who has been with her partner, Susan Whitewood, for 22 years during a conference call with reporters.
Maureen Hennessey, whose wife of 29 years, Mary Beth McIntyre, passed away last May, said she was “missing my better half to hug” after the court published Jones’ decision.
“I know this means a lot to our children and to our grandchildren,” said Hennessey.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Hennessey and the 11 plaintiff couples that she would not defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration continues to defend the law.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) has led efforts to impeach Kane over her decision not to defend the same-sex marriage ban. Democratic members of the State Government Committee earlier this month walked out of a hearing the anti-gay Republican held to consider the issue.
“We have an opinion that is now a bell ringer,” said Mark Aronchick, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs.
“I join millions of Pennsylvanians today in supporting the federal court’s decision,” added state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) who co-introduced a same-sex marriage bill last fall. “Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love.”
Then-President George W. Bush appointed Jones to the federal bench in 2002.
“The ruling unilaterally makes an end-run around the democratic process and places the capricious will of one man above the desires of millions of citizens,” said National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown.
Jones did not stay his ruling, but it appears likely that Corbett will appeal it.
Corbett’s spokesperson Melissa Ferdinand said the governor and his chief counsel are “reviewing the decision.” The governor has 30 days to appeal the ruling.
The Philadelphia Registrar of Wills issued a marriage license to Rue Landau and Kerry Smith shortly after Jones announced his ruling. The ACLU said judges are waiving the three-day waiting period between the time a couple receives their marriage license and when they can exchange vows under state law.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania plans to celebrate the decision at a series of rallies that are planned to take place later on Tuesday in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Erie.
Neighboring New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland are among the states that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Gays and lesbians in Oregon on Monday began to exchange vows after a federal judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
Same-sex couples in dozens of other states have filed marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
13 federal judges have ruled in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians since last June’s landmark DOMA decision. State courts in New Jersey, New Mexico and Arkansas have also found same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel on a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., on May 13 heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month heard oral arguments in two cases challenging Utah and Oklahoma’s gay nuptials bans.