Pennsylvania gay marriage ban overturned by judge

 Born and bred Pennsylvanians and plaintiffs in the case, David Palmer (left) and Edwin Hill of Northampton County were married in Maine on May 10, 2013. Their marriage will now be recognized in Pennsylvania. (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

Born and bred Pennsylvanians and plaintiffs in the case, David Palmer (left) and Edwin Hill of Northampton County were married in Maine on May 10, 2013. Their marriage will now be recognized in Pennsylvania. (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

A federal judge has overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage. The decision of U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III allows couples to begin marrying immediately and provides for the recognition of out-of-state marriages.

“This is very exciting,” said one of the plaintiffs in the case, Maureen Hennessey, after receiving the news with her lawyers in Philadelphia. She was widowed last year, and the state would not let her list herself as a spouse on her wife’s death certificate, even though they had married in Massachusetts. “I am lacking my better half so that means you guys got it done for her.”

The ACLU brought this challenge to the state’s marriage statute last July on behalf of 23 plaintiffs, which also includes couples whose out-of-state marriages are not recognized in Pennsylvania and same-sex partners seeking to marry in the state. Plaintiffs David Palmer and Edwin Hill, who were married in Maine in 2013, said the decision is an exciting moment, for them and for history.

Judge Jones called the plaintiffs courageous.

“We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage,” Jones wrote.

An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett hired outside counsel after Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she considered the law unconstitutional and refused to defend it in court.

The Commonwealth’s lawyers have argued in this case and in others pending in state and federal courts for deference to the will of the state legislature, which enacted the ban back in 1996.

This is the second marriage ban to be overturned in two days. With Pennsylvania and Oregon Monday, there are 13 states where state or federal courts have ruled portions of their marriage bans unconstitutional since the Supreme Court overturned part of the federal defense of marriage act (DOMA).

The DOMA decision stopped short of saying that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, but the decision written by Supreme Court Judge Anthony Kennedy included strong language about the dignity of same-sex couples.

Read Judge Jones’ opinion and order below.

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Pa. same-sex marriage ruling opinion (PDF)

Pa. same-sex marriage ruling opinion (Text)

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Pennsylvania same-sex marriage order (PDF)

Pennsylvania same-sex marriage order (Text)

Additional reporting from Maryclaire Dale, Associated Press.

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