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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) In Pennsylvania


State defense of marriage act bans SSMs.
Legislature fails to legalize SSM.
Federal Court case launched. Court
rules in favor of SSM. No stay, no
appeal. SSMs available permanently.

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Background up to 2014-MAY-28:

In 1996, prompted by the fear that Hawaii might legalize same-sex marriate (SSM), Pennsylvania passed a state Defense of Marriage Act that limits marriage to a voluntary union of one woman and one man. Further, the law prevents the state from recognizing same-sex marriages (SSMs) legally solemnized out-of-state.

An unusual event happened in late 2013-JUL. Bruce Hanes, the Registrar of Wills in Montgomery County, announced that he would start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. He personally interpreted the 2013-JUN ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as implying that Pennsylvania's marriage act is unconstitutional. He concluded that engaged same-sex couples should be treated as equal to engaged opposite-sex couples and allowed to marry. He based this belief on the due process and equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that the federal and state governments must treat people equally. By extension, this would imply that couples must also be treated equally.

Based on his promise to uphold the U.S. Constitution during his oath of office, he decided to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Events similar to this have happened in several locations in the U.S. over the previous decade. In many cases, same-sex couples who married were later forcibly divorced against their will.

As of early 2014, in the U.S., the District of Columbia and thirteen states recognized same-sex marriages, but Pennsylvania was not one of them. A contiguous group of states to the North and East of Pennsylvania do recognize same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Also North of Pennsylvania lie the ten provinces and three territories of Canada, all of which achieved marriage equality in 2005-JUL. Pennsylvania remains the only northeastern state that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying or entering into civil unions.

There were two simultaneous attempts to bring marriage equality to Pennsylvania. One is through the through the state legislature. It failed because of opposition from Republican lawmakers. The other was via a federal District Court lawsuit: Whitewood v. Corbett. It succeeded.

The District Court issued its ruling on 2014-MAY-20. Judge ruled that the Pennsylvania laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Couples started to marry immediately. Most commentators expected that Governor Tom Corbett (R) would request a stay of the ruling and/or appeal the case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But he did neither! Pennsylvania thus became the 19th state in the U.S. to accept marriage equality. The Los Angeles Times speculated that his decision may have been influenced by his "uphill fight for his second term as governor."

Victory symbol by the
Human Rights Campaign

Symbol by Human Rights Campaign

And then there were 19 states where all couples -- whether opposite-sex or same-sex -- can marry. This meant that about 44% of Americans live in states where same-sex marriages are legal. Meanwhile, lawsuits are active in every state where same-sex couples are denied access to marriage. With every new ruling that attains marriage equality in a state, the likelihood that various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal -- and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court -- will uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry increases.

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Copyright © 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2013-JUL-10
Latest update: 2014-MAY-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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