Federal Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban.

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Update, May 21: Gov. Tom Corbett said today that he will not continue to fight against same-sex marriage because "the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal." This means that there should be no further legal threats to same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. Corbett compared gay marriage to incest last year.

Update, 2:29 p.m.: U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban on Tuesday. In his opinion, Jones writes that the Pennsylvania laws banning same-sex marriage violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Jones wrote that his court "now join[s] the twelve federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage."

There was no stay appended to the ruling. Philadelphia Register of Wills Ron Donatucci began issuing marriage licenses immediately after the decision, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Governor Tom Corbett's administration has 30 days to appeal the decision.

At this point, we're used to seeing pretty strong opinions against these bans from the district courts. But Jones's opinion has the same-sex marriage progress gas pedal to the floor. In his opinion, Jones concluded (emphasis ours):

The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. 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 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.

As @nycsouthpaw spotted, even some of the headers on Jones's opinion are excerpts from traditional marriage vows:

Jones, by the way, is a George W. Bush appointee. He's handled a few high-profile cases before, including a decision against teaching "intelligent design" in public schools in the state. The full decision is available at the bottom of this post.

Original Post: U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III is expected to issue a decision on a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban by the end of business on Tuesday, according to the ACLU. The organization, which helped to bring the suit against the ban, announced that they'll hold rallies across the state at the end of the day where "we hope to celebrate a favorable ruling for the freedom to marry."

But "hope" is, perhaps, too mild a word for the feeling among same-sex marriage advocates right now. There's also a certain level of confidence: if today's decision goes against the ban, it will be the 14th straight win (by the AP's count) in the federal courts for same-sex marriage rights since the Supreme Court's Windsor decision last summer.

Just yesterday, in fact, Oregon's voter-approved ban was overturned by a federal judge, in a decision that seems likely to permanently grant marriage rights to the state's same-sex couples for the first time in 10 years. The decision was issued without a stay, meaning that couples are already marrying in the state. And, because the state's Attorney General and Governor aren't going to defend the law, it's almost certain that it won't end up back in the courts on appeal. (One anti-gay group, the National Organization for Marriage, is trying to get standing to defend the law, but their requests have so far been denied).

According to Mother Jones's tally of the fight for same-sex marriage in the U.S., there are just four states with unchallenged bans in place: Montana, North and South Dakota, and Mississippi. There are 18 court challenges to existing bans making their way through the courts, and another 9 states with bans that were recently overturned in the courts, and are on appeal. That's a lot of cases on deck, with a handful — a case in Utah, a challenge to Oklahoma's ban, for instance — possibly bound for the Supreme Court.

Although Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane has refused to defend the state ban against legal challenges, members of the administration of Governor Tom Corbett are named as defendants in the suit. Today's decision comes after both Corbett's administration and the couples challenging the ban asked for summary judgement, in order to avoid going to trial. The case is just one of seven legal challenges to the state's ban, as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.