U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled on May 20, 2014 that the Pennsylvania ban on same-gender marriages was unconstitutional. This follows a similar ruling from a federal judge in Oregon on May 19, 2014. The momentum is growing to declare all barriers to same-gender marriages as violations of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.
Judge Jones wrote a 39 page opinion with a summary statement that outlined his logic in his decision of Whitewood versus Wolf to declare Pennsylvania’s ban on same-gender marriages to be constitutionally invalid. The plaintiffs in this suite sought relief to same-gender marriages to be performed in Pennsylvania, recognition by Pennsylvania of same-gender marriages performed in other states, and by two children seeking official recognition in Pennsylvania of their parent's same-gender marriage.
Judge Jone summarized his ruling with the following statement.
All couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage. We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.
Judge Jones also declared that Pennsylvania must recognize same-gender marriages that were legally performed in other states. This is a similar ruling made by a federal district judge in Cincinnati regarding the responsibility of Ohio to recognize legal same-gender marriages performed in other states.
The governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, issued a statement on May 21, 2014 that Pennsylvania will not challenge the ruling in court. Same-gender couples immediately sought marriage licenses in Pennsylvania. There is a three day delay from the issuance of the license until the ceremony, but a judge can perform the marriages immediately at the judge’s discretion.
This ruling overturns legislation passed in Pennsylvania in 1996 defining marriage as the legal joining of one man and one woman. Ohio passed Issue I in 2004 that added this definition of marriage to the Ohio constitution.
Same-gender marriages are now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It is expected that one or more appeals will be made to the higher federal courts, with an expectation that one or more cases will be referred up to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the 2014 fall term.
The decision by Governor Tom Corbett R-PA to not appeal the court decision appears to be politically based. Governor Corbett is up for reelection in November, 2014. His opponent, Tom Wolf, supports same-gender marriages, as do a majority of the voters in Pennsylvania.
Governor Corbett is a devout Roman Catholic. Although he will not have the state appeal the decision, he had this to say about the decision.
Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal. As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
You can read more details of the decision in an article by Lyle Denniston in his SCOTUS blog on May 21, 2014. An article commenting on the decision not to appeal was written by Trip Gabriel of the New York Times on May 21, 2014.
The momentum is gaining to force SCOTUS to make a national ruling that the 14th amendment’s due process clause applies to same-gender marriages as it does for mixed-race marriages. This ruling will finally allow same-gender marriages for all states.