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Pennsylvania Gay Marriage Ban Overturned By Judge

Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters — courageous.

"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.

An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely. Gov. Tom Corbett's office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.

In a statement from her office, Kane said, "Today brings justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation."

"When state-sponsored inequality exists, citizens are deprived of the full protections that the Constitution guarantees," she said. "Our Commonwealth progressed today and so have the hopes and dreams of many who suffer from inequality."

Reaction from local officials echoed that sentiment.

“I am overjoyed by the judge’s decision today, and can’t wait to throw open the doors of the Mayor’s Office to honor marriages of all couples," Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said via a news release. "I would be thrilled to make the marriage of an LGBT couple the first one I officiate as Mayor.”

And according to a statement from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, couples who wish to apply for their marriage license may do so online. Same-sex couples are advised to "disregard the references to groom versus bride in the online process," according to the county. The Marriage License Bureau, located in the City-County Building, will be open for extended hours of 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and is directing residents to this website for more details.

“We are pleased that the Court is affirming the rights of all people to form a marriage union to express their commitments, form a family in the eyes of the law, and have their rights recognized," Fitzgerald said in a news release. "This is what we have been advocating for quite some time and it is a day to celebrate.”

Governor Tom Corbett is staying silent for now on whether he'll appeal.

The Catholic Conference of Pennsylvania calls it a redefinition of marriage and hopes an appeal is prompt. Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason also slammed the decision, saying an activist judge is disregarding other branches of government.

In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage. If Jones' decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th and legalize gay marriage throughout the Northeast.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the law inflicts harm on same-sex couples and their children by depriving them of the legal protections and tax benefits afforded to married couples.

The Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed July 9, was the first known challenge to the state law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and the recognition of gay marriages from other states.

At least five later challenges have surfaced in state and federal courts since the lawsuit was filed, including one in which a county official is defending his decision to issue 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Oregon became the 18th state to recognize same-sex marriage on Monday, when jubilant couples began applying for marriage licenses immediately after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a ruling that invalidated that state's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

Also Monday, a federal judge in Utah ordered state officials to recognize more than 1,000 gay marriages that took place in the state over a two-week period before the U.S. Supreme Court halted same-sex weddings with an emergency stay.

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