First arguments on Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban heard in federal court

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     Isabelle Barker (left) and Cara Palladino filed a lawsuit in federal court in September of 2013, arguing that Pennsylvania should recognize their 2005 marriage in Massachusetts. (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

    Isabelle Barker (left) and Cara Palladino filed a lawsuit in federal court in September of 2013, arguing that Pennsylvania should recognize their 2005 marriage in Massachusetts. (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

    A federal judge heard arguments today in Philadelphia on whether Pennsylvania must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

    The arguments in Palladino v. Corbett are the first to be heard in a courtroom from more than a half dozen pending state and federal lawsuits challenging the Commonwealth’s law barring same-sex marriages.

     The two female plaintiffs Cara Palladino and Isabelle Barker married in Massachusetts in 2005, where same-sex marriage was legal. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Pennsylvania.

    Speaking outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Palladino and Barker said they want their new home state to acknowledge their marriage as legal.

    “We’re just living our lives and we’re looking for a court to sort of back us up in terms of recognizing our relationship,” Palladino said.

    Barker added: “And granting the legal protections that I think we certainly deserve in terms of you wanting to just live our lives and raise our child.”

    In the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin asked attorneys representing Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration how the law could stand after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

    The decision in United States v. Windsor looms large over these proceedings. It required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages from states where they’re permitted. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion employed strong language to describe the harm gay couples experience when denied that recognition.

    Since that decision, eight states have seen their laws prohibiting same-sex marriage overturned.

    Gov. Corbett’s lawyers responded that the decision also affirmed the rights of individual states to make their own marriage rules, in this case a traditional definition of marriage tied to procreation.

    After the hearing, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Michael Banks stated that the fundamental issue in the case, “is whether the right of our clients, Ms. Barker and Ms. Palladino to marry has been taken away from them solely because of their sexual orientation. Whether their constitutional rights have been denied for an improper reason.”

    Experts say the flurry of litigation since last summer’s Windsor ruling make it likely the issue of whether same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right will ultimately return to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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