STATE - On Tuesday, Pennsylvania became the 10th state to have a federal judge say the law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled on this decision. This is the fourth such ruling on a state ban in the past three weeks.
This is the 10th ban overturned since the U.S. Supreme Court issued two marriage-related rulings in 2013.
“Today a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush became the latest to uphold the most sacred ideals of this nation and our Constitution-that justice and equality matter above all else,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin following the ruling.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality (LGBT).
“It seems that every passing day brings LGBT Americans a new victory in our unwavering march toward justice,” Griffin said. “The inescapable reality of full equality under the law is now one step closer.”
On July 9, 2013 a suit was filed on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians “seeking the right to marry or for the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages.”
Whitewood v. Wolf involves the American Civil Liberties Unit (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, ACLU National and counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.
The HRC explained that the suit “challenged a law passed by the state legislature in 1996 that restricts marriage to the union of one man and one woman.”
The organization also said there have been at least six marriage cases filed in Pennsylvania, two in federal court and four in state court.
Before the ruling Tuesday, Pennsylvania was the only Northeastern state without marriage equality.
According to the HRC, Whitewood is one of over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country. These cases have been filed in 29 states plus Puerto Rico and account for hundreds of plaintiffs challenging state marriage bans.
“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” said Jones.
Area legislators shared their thoughts on the ruling and they seem to agree with one another.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) stated he is pleased that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District in Pennsylvania struck down the ban.
“This was the right decision and is a step forward for equality in our Commonwealth and in the Nation,” he said in a statement. “As a U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania, I have heard from many LGBT Pennsylvanians and their families who want nothing more than equal rights under the law.
“I believe this decision is a critical step toward achieving equal rights for all Pennsylvanians.”
Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) stated he is thrilled to join supporters from across the state in celebrating the decision.
"In 2009, I introduced Pennsylvania’s first marriage equality bill and everyone said this was a hopeless cause,” Leach said. “I knew it was the moral dilemma of our time and I must fight every day until justice prevailed.
“This is a momentous decision, one I implore Governor Corbett to not appeal. Public polling demonstrates that the majority of Americans support marriage equality.
“I am proud to know that same-sex couples that would like to marry or have married will now be treated equally under the law."
According to a poll conducted in March by Washington Post-ABC, 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality.
“An activist judiciary has substituted its judgment in place of the law created by the elected representatives of Pennsylvania and has stifled the ongoing debate of people with differing points of view,”said Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason.
“The questions that face our commonwealth are best aired in the legislature with the representatives of the people.
“This complete disregard of the important roles held by each branch of government is just another reason why we need to elect principled people to office to uphold our Constitution.
“Grassroots activists came together in 2012 to debate and form our Republican Party Platform, which clearly supports the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.”
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the ruling finally brings the freedom to marry to the entire Northeast.
“Loving and committed couples and their families in the nation's sixth largest state will be able to share in the joy, security and dignity that come with the freedom to marry,” he said.
“The stone that was once left out has become the keystone, and now it's time to finish the job nationwide."
Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide.
They partner with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.
Attempts to reach Senator Lisa Baker, State Representative Frank Farina, Representative Sandra Major and the Upper Delaware GLBT Center were unsuccessful.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Governor Tom Corbett announced he will not be appealing the decision, making Pennsylvania the 19th state with marriage equality along with Washington, D.C.
The HRC said that with Pennsylvania, around 44 percent of Americans live in states where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry.
There are currently 32 states that have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.