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June 30, 2014

Same-sex marriage legal since May 20

NEW CASTLE — Same sex marriage in Pennsylvania became legal on May 20.

That is the day a U.S. district court judge ruled the state’s 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. The following day, Gov. Tom Corbett said he would not appeal.

Previously, the state did not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. In 1996, the state House and Senate banned performance and recognition of same-sex marriages.

On July 9, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the case of U.S. vs Windsor — the core of the Defense of Marriage Act.

This had denied federal benefits to married, same-sex couples, defining “marriage” and “spouse” as applying only to heterosexual unions.

Immediately, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of 23 plaintiffs — 10 couples, two of their children and a widow — asking to overturn the commonwealth’s ban.

The suit contended the law was unconstitutional under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On July 11, 2013, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, named as a defendant in the suit, said she would not defend the statute, calling it “wholly unconstitutional.”

On July 30, 2013, Gov. Tom Corbett said he would defend the statute.

After the May 20 ruling that Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, “violating the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution,” Corbett announced he would not appeal the ruling, making Pennsylvania the 19th state to legalize same-sex unions.

This allows same-sex couples to request and receive marriage licenses through the state and to wed after the mandatory three-day waiting period.

However, an appeal has been filed by the Schuylkill County clerk.

Solicitor Dennis R. Joyce, writing for the journal of the Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania, noted that when Pennsylvania’s law defining marriage was overturned, restrictions on who may participate in the civil contract of marriage was lifted.

Pennsylvania also recognizes same-sex marriages that took place lawfully in other jurisdictions.

Joyce said he understands this is a sensitive issue and judges are struggling with the decision.

The law, Joyce wrote, “authorized ... officials to perform weddings or marriages but does not require that these officials perform marriages.”

Magisterial district judges, who may perform weddings, “must ... not demonstrate bias or prejudice in conducting their duties and should refrain from discrimination.

“It is important,” he said, “that we respect the decision and opinion of all judges.”

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