Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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Pa. gay-marriage ban set for ‘ash heap of history’

State weighs appeal as couples plan weddings

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From left, Landon, Susan, Abbey, Katie, and Deb Whitewood led the lawsuit that was filed in July to strike down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. Altogether, 11 gay couples, two teenagers, and a widow were part of the lawsuit. Many now plan to get married.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal judge’s decision declaring unconstitutional the state’s ban on same-sex marriage spurred both wedding planning and hand-wringing Tuesday, as gay couples and their supporters celebrated while conservative voices called for a prompt appeal.

In a 39-page decision that advocates described as an eloquent but a matter-of-fact “bell ringer,” U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III set out to put the state’s 18-year-old Defense of Marriage Act on “the ash heap of history.”

Some among the plaintiffs — 11 gay couples, two teenagers, and a widow — immediately started thinking ahead.

“Our five-year [anniversary of their] commitment ceremony is coming up in July,” said Lynn Hurdle, 44, one of the plaintiffs with partner Fredia Hurdle. “That would be a wonderful time to be married in Pennsylvania.”

“I was missing my better half to hug,” said plaintiff Maureen Hennessey, who argued that her inability to marry penalized her when her partner died and the estate tax came due. “Before Marybeth died, she wanted this done.”

Brandon McGinley, field director for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a Harrisburg-based nonprofit, had one wish: “Just that they appeal this decision. Marriage is too important to just let one judge decide.”

He urged Gov. Tom Corbett “to defend our law vigorously.”

The state has 30 days to appeal, but meanwhile, same-sex couples in parts of Pennsylvania were applying for marriage licenses.

The case was filed in July, led by Deb and Susan Whitewood of South Fayette, with plaintiffs including their daughters, plus Diana Polson and Dawn Plummer of Point Breeze, and Lynn and Fredia Hurdle of Crafton Heights.

The defendants are state Health Secretary Michael Wolf, Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser, and Donald Petrille, Jr., Bucks County register of wills. Mr. Corbett was dropped as a defendant because his office doesn’t administer directly marriage-related functions.

Some of the plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Philadelphia firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, demanded that Pennsylvania recognize gay marriages forged in other states, while others sought to wed in their home states.

Judge Jones gave both groups what they wanted. “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,” he wrote.

He found that restricting marriage to man-and-wife couples violated the due process and equal-protection clauses of the 14th Amendment and issued “an order permanently enjoining … enforcement” of the ban.

“Encompassed within the right to liberty is the fundamental right to marry,” he wrote.

The ACLU and plaintiffs built on the language of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Windsor vs. United States, which struck the federal ban on recognition of gay marriages.

The defense countered that Windsor reinforced states’ rights to decide who can and cannot marry. They argued that the General Assembly needs only to have a “rational basis” to enact a law and that lawmakers sought “promotion of procreation … child rearing and the well-being of children … tradition” and business concerns.

Joshua Maus, Office of General Counsel spokesman, said that the office is reviewing the “legal issues” of the decision. He said he did not know whether an appeal would be filed.

In 18 other states, federal or state judges have knocked down bans on same-sex marriage, and all of those decisions except one in Oregon are under appeal. Seventeen states, plus D.C., allow marriage for same-sex couples.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rich Lord is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. The Post-Gazette’s Maxwell Radwin contributed to this report.

Contact Rich Lord at: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.

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