By John Chambless
On May 20, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Pennsylvania’s law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional. On May 21, Gov. Tom Corbett announced the state would not appeal the ruling, officially making Pennsylvania the 19th state where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry.
In a press release, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin wrote, “Governor Corbett did the right thing in not standing in the way of thousands of loving couples’ ability to make lifelong commitments to each other through marriage. Breaking down this dark wall of discrimination in the Keystone State strengthens our ever-growing momentum as we continue to expand the marriage equality map. Thanks to the hundreds of plaintiffs and attorneys across the country challenging these discriminatory marriage bans, its only a matter of time before a state border no longer dictates whether a loving couple can legally share in the joys of marriage.”
Same-sex couples can legally marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia, while 41 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman. According to a March 2014 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 59 percent of Americans support marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
In the May 20 ruling, Judge Jones wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
In a comment e-mailed to the Chester County Press, Liz Bradbury, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, based in Allentown, wrote, "The majority of people in Pennsylvania support marriage equality because they are fair-minded, and believe that families should be treated equally. ... The ACLU put together an excellent case and I don't see how the judge could respond in any other way."
Kathleen G. Kane, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, issued a statement on May 20, saying, "This is an historic day. 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.
"Today, in Pennsylvania, the Constitution prevailed," Kane continued. "Inequality in any form is unacceptable and it has never stood the test of time. I have remained steadfast in my decision not to defend Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act because I made a legal determination as to the unconstitutionality of this law. I am pleased that a learned legal mind such as Judge Jones ruled similarly."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also welcomed the court decision, calling it, “A major step forward in the quest for equal rights for all.” Nancy Baron-Baer, ADL Philadelphia interim regional director, said, "We are pleased by the court’s decision supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry, and welcome this reaffirmation of equal treatment and protection for all. No American should be denied access to the benefits of civil marriage because of his or her sexual orientation. This decision is a major step forward in the quest for equal rights and freedom from discrimination for all Pennsylvania residents.”
On the opposing side of the decision, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania responded with a press release condemning "Judge Jones’ continued judicial activism as he steps out of line with other judges who are redefining marriage with their wrong-headed decisions.
"The 41-page decision from Judge Jones throws out the majority vote of Pennsylvania’s House and Senate back in 1996, when DOMA passed. He has overstepped his constitutional authority by usurping the General Assembly of its legislative power. Jones further complains on pages 34 and 35 that even though 17 bills have been introduced in the PA legislature that would give homosexuals special rights – including 'marriage' — there’s no guarantee that they will pass ... so he has to step in and create his own law by throwing out our law protecting marriage,” wrote Diane Gramley, president of the AFA of Pennsylvania.
Gramley noted that, "In his decision, Jones predicts the term same-sex marriage will disappear and be replaced simply by marriage. The AFA of PA could not disagree more strongly. The average Pennsylvanian fully understands marriage is only between one man and one woman, and any other arrangement is not marriage. ... Unelected judges making laws from the bench are not what the founding fathers intended and that is fully outlined in the U.S. Constitution. We redefine family and marriage, the bedrock of society, at our peril," Gramley wrote.
Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason also released a statement on May 21, saying, "an activist judiciary has substituted its judgment in place of the law created by the elected representatives of Pennsylvania and has stifled the ongoing debate of people with differing points of view. The questions that face our commonwealth are best aired in the legislature with the representatives of the people. This complete disregard of the important roles held by each branch of government is just another reason why we need to elect principled people to office to uphold our Constitution.
“Grassroots activists came together in 2012 to debate and form our Republican Party platform, which clearly supports the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. We believe all Pennsylvanians deserve dignity and respect regardless of their beliefs on this issue. However, the citizens of the commonwealth also deserved to be participants in the ongoing discussion, rather than be dictated to by judicial fiat.”