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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Federal judge strikes down state's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional (UPDATED)

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 3:17 PM

In an often lyrical ruling handed down today, federal Judge John E. Jones III has invalidated Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage, holding that it violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

"All couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage," wrote Jones. And accordingly, "All Pennsylvanians have the right to marry the person of their choice ... 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."

(ADDED 3:32 p.m.): Although Allegheny County offices are closed for Election Day, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald issued a statement saying that "Those who those who wish to apply for their marriage license may do so online here. Same-sex couples should disregard the references to groom versus bride in the online process." Couples who apply must submit an e-mail address, and a confirmation number will be sent when the process is complete. Applicants must then appear -- in person and with photo ID -- at the Marriage License Bureau on the first floor of the City County Building. That office will be open tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. and be open until 7:30 p.m.

Jones ruled that the "the fundamental right to marry is a personal right to be exercised by the individual" and that the 14th Amendment to the US. Constitution "encompasses the right to marry a person of one's own sex" -- a right violated by the state law barring same-sex marriage. Accordingly, he wrote, the law was unconstitutional.

While Jones was appointed by George W. Bush, this is not his first ruling against religious conservatives. Previously, he was perhaps best known for his legal flensing of teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. His ruling today is unlikely to soothe any hurt feelings: In it, Jones explicitly compares the struggle of gay couples to the travails of African Americans.

Jones acknowledged that the issue of same-sex marriage, was "divisive": "Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage." Still, he said, "that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees. Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of 'separate but equal.' ... In the sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education 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," Jones concluded, "and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."

Reaction from supporters of same-sex marriage – who are planning celebrations in Pittsburgh and around the state this evening -- has been, predictably, ecstatic.

"It's always a good day in PA when love wins," Ted Martin, Executive Director for Equality PA, said in a statement. "Equality PA members have been waiting for this day for a long time, and we thank Judge Jones for being fair minded in his decision. Marriage really matters to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples in deeply important ways."

"Today, we celebrate with Pennsylvania's LGBTQ families and thank everyone who sacrificed to make this day happen," Pittsburgh's Gay and Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) said in a statement of its own. "This is one more step towards our state treating all residents equally. We hope Pennsylvania will continue to make strides to recognize the rights of all LGBTQ persons."

Politicians have been jumping in as well.

"I am overjoyed by the judge’s decision today, and can’t wait to throw open the doors of the Mayor’s Office to honor marriages of all couples," said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "I would be thrilled to make the marriage of an LGBT couple the first one I officiate as Mayor."

"The days of legally discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation are drawing to a close," said state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. "We will remember this day as one of enlightenment, as one where the fight for fairness and equality has finally prevailed."

DePasquale also expressed hope that the US Supreme Court would one day uphold marriage-equality nationwide ... while suggesting that Gov. Tom Corbett himself should drop the case. "I hope today's ruling ends Gov. Tom Corbett's costly legal fight to uphold the ban on marriage-equality in Pennsylvania. Taxpayers of Pennsylvania should not have to foot the bill for a costly appeal."

We'll have more details as they become available.

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