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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 23 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 21
Pennsylvania Governor drops marriage appeal - Rush for licenses is on!
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Pennsylvania Governor drops marriage appeal - Rush for licenses is on!

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay and Lesbian couples rushed to get marriage licenses in Pennsylvania as Republican Governor Tom Corbett announced May 21 that he was dropping the state's fight to keep its ban on same-sex marriage.

Corbett, running for reelection and vastly unpopular, decided not to appeal a decision by Federal District Judge John E. Jones III striking down the state's marriage law. The state's Democratic Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, determined that the law was unconstitutional and refused to defend it in court.

'Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,' Corbett wrote in a statement posted on his official blog. 'Therefore, after review of the opinion and on the advice of my Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not to appeal Judge Jones' decision.

'The court has spoken, and I will ensure that my administration follows the provisions of Judge Jones' order with respect for all parties.'

At least one Pennsylvania couple has already married. Pamela VanHaitsma and Jess Garrity of Pittsburgh were married by a state judge on May 21, hours before Corbett announced his decision. Pennsylvania requires a three-day waiting period before a couple with a marriage license can wed, but a county judge agreed to waive it, the couple's attorney, Sam Hens-Greco, said.

Jones struck down Pennsylvania's marriage laws on May 20. He was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, and, ironically, was recommended for the post by then Senator Rick Santorum.

'[W]e hold that Pennsylvania's Marriage Laws violate both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,' Jones wrote in his opinion. 'Because these laws are unconstitutional, we shall enter an order permanently enjoining their enforcement. 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.

'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 [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, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.'

Attorney General Kane hailed the decision as 'historic.'

'This is an historic day,' she said in a statement. 'More importantly, today brings justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation. When state-sponsored inequality exists, citizens are deprived of the full protections that the Constitution guarantees. Our Commonwealth progressed today and so have the hopes and dreams of many who suffer from inequality.'

The case decided by Jones was brought on behalf of 23 plaintiffs by the ACLU and is only one of seven same-sex marriage cases under consideration by courts in Pennsylvania. The state also dropped its suit against Montgomery County Register of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, barring him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

'What a great day!' said Mark Aronchick, one of the lawyers for plaintiffs in the case. 'The court, in a bell-ringing opinion, has explained in crystal clear language why the promises of our Constitution extend to all Pennsylvanians. We urge the commonwealth to take whatever steps are necessary to allow marriages to proceed and the celebrations to begin immediately.'

'I'm in shock,' Stephen Miller told reporters as he waited in line for a license to marry his partner Jim Devanty in Pittsburgh. 'In a way, I never thought I'd live to see the day when Jim and I could get married.'

In a March Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania voters, 57% of respondents said they supported a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, while 37% opposed it. The poll results trended along party lines: 74% of Democrats supported same-sex marriage, while 59% of Republicans opposed it.

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