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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 29 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 48
PA judge sets date for marriage trial - Eleven couples seek to overturn state ban
Section One
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PA judge sets date for marriage trial - Eleven couples seek to overturn state ban

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Federal District Judge John E. Jones III this week rejected a motion to delay a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage. He set June 9, 2014, as the date for trial to begin.

Jones also said he would allow two weeks for the trial, and would set a timetable for pre-trial motions and other filings soon.

The defendants' motion for delay cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision stating that federal courts lack jurisdiction over state marriage laws. But Jones said that decision has been eroded by the court's subsequent rulings on constitutional challenges based on sex or sexual identity. 'The jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972,' Jones wrote in his opinion.

Plaintiffs in the case include 11 couples, the teenage daughters of one of the couples, and a widow.

Defendants in the case are the appointed heads of the state's health and revenue departments. The suit is only the first one of six state and federal suits challenging Pennsylvania's 1996 law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

OFFICIALS DIVIDED
Pennsylvania's elected attorney general, Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has refused to defend her state's marriage law, saying it violates equal protection clauses in both the state and federal constitutions.

The state's Republican governor, Tom Corbett, said last month that he is immune from being named in the lawsuit. In August he filed a successful suit to prevent Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County registrar, from issuing marriage licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples.

Corbett has hired former state Supreme Court Justice William Lamb to defend state law, since the Attorney General refuses to do so. Lamb said he plans to appeal Jones's ruling denying a delay to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pennsylvania is the last remaining state in the Northeast that does not offer some form of legal recognition to same-sex relationships. A civil unions bill is pending in the legislature, although a similar bill died in committee in 2011. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is also pending, but has failed to advance in committee.

MAJORITY SUPPORT
In May, a Franklin and Marshall College poll found that 54% of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality and 41% oppose the idea.

A March PPP survey found that when given a choice between supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, 45% of Pennsylvanians supported it and 47% opposed it. But when given a choice between marriage or civil unions for Gay and Lesbian couples, over 74% of respondents indicated support for either, with 38% supporting marriage rights and 36% supporting civil unions but not marriage.

Only 24% of respondents opposed any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

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