U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Jones is the 14th federal judge in recent months to rule against marriage discrimination. With the announcement of Pennsylvania’s ruling, all Northeast states have now legalized same-sex marriage.
Jones was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
“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,” Jones wrote, adding: “The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional.”
Freedom to Marry President Even Wolfson said shortly after the announcement: “Today’s win in Pennsylvania 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. The stone that was once left out has become the keystone, and now it’s time to finish the job nationwide.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said: “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. It seems that every passing day brings LGBT Americans a new victory in our unwavering march toward justice. And thanks to our friends at the ACLU of PA and ACLU National, the attorneys of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, and the proud plaintiffs who brought this case, the inescapable reality of full equality under the law is now one step closer.”
Whitewood v. Wolf was filed on July 9, 2013 by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the ACLU and counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians seeking the right to marry or for the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages. The suit challenges a law passed by the state legislature in 1996 that restricts marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
In July of 2013, state attorney general Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state’s marriage ban. If Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett decides not to appeal Tuesday’s ruling, the Keystone State would become the 19th state with marriage equality, plus Washington, D.C. With Pennsylvania, nearly 44 percent of Americans would live in states where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry.
To date there have been at least six marriage cases filed in Pennsylvania, two in federal court and four in state court. Pennsylvania was the only remaining state in the Northeast without marriage equality. A March 2014 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality.
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 taking on state marriage bans. So far five federal appeals courts are presiding over nine marriage equality cases over the coming weeks and months. Same-sex couples can legally marry in 18 states and the District of Columbia, while 32 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
Only three states – North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana – currently have no marriage equality lawsuits pending in either state or federal court.