The inevitable has happened. United States District Judge John E. Jones III has ruled that the Pennsylvania law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional, setting the stage for same-sex marriage in the Keystone State.
“We now join the twelve 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 in his opinion, released this afternoon.
The law deemed unconstitutional is Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 by the General Assembly, which restricted marriage to one man and one woman.
The case which challenged this was termed Whitewood v. Wolf, and was filed on July 9, 2013, by the ACLU and others on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians negatively affected by the law. In a surprise move, Attorney General Kathleen Kane refused to defend the state in this case, citing her belief that the law was, in fact, unconstitutional.
According to polls, Pennsylvanians have been generally supportive of LGBT rights, though Pennsylvania was the single state in the northeast in which marriage equality was not legal.
“We are a better people than what these laws represent,” Jones added in his ruling, “and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
The ruling was met by celebration from LGBT advocates and pols who’ve been pushing for LGBT rights throughout their careers.
“When Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery, and I introduced the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act last fall, we recognized that numerous legal challenges throughout the Commonwealth had the potential to bring marriage equality much faster to the state, while our legislators sat on the sidelines. Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love,” said State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila) in a statement.
That said, one group, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, wasted no time with their own press release, condemning the decision.
“This decision tosses aside not just the definition of marriage recognized in law by an overwhelming majority of the people’s representatives, but the definition that has been in place in Pennsylvania since our commonwealth’s founding more than two centuries ago,” said PFI president Michael Geer.