Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Thursday that she will not defend the state law effectively banning same-sex marriage from a legal challenge in federal court, meaning the task will be left up to Gov. Tom Corbett.
"I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's (law), where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional," Kathleen Kane announced Thursday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The 1996 law defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman. The state also does not recognize same-sex marriages from other states that allow it.
Under Pennsylvania law, it is the attorney general's duty to defend the constitutionality of state laws. But that law also says the attorney general may allow lawyers for the governor's office or executive-branch agencies to defend a lawsuit if it is more efficient or in the state's best interests.
Kane, a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, said she will leave the job to Gov. Corbett, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage. Both were named in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court Tuesday seeking to overturn the law and legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
Robert Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, called Kane's decision "unacceptable" and accused her of "abdicating her responsibilities."
"She is blatantly politicizing the highest law enforcement office in our Commonwealth at the expense of a core responsibility of the Attorney General’s office. Kathleen Kane is failing our citizens and this situation leaves a gaping doubt in her ability to fairly execute her job. Pennsylvanians are left with the question, if Kathleen Kane’s political beliefs are the standard for law enforcement, what law will she ignore next?”
However, Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, applauded Kane.
“We are pleased that the Attorney General recognizes what we have long known - that Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is indefensible," "We look forward to continuing the fight to make sure that one day every Pennsylvanian will be free to marry the person he or she loves.”
Corbett's office has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are a widow, 10 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters. The group includes four couples who were legally married in other states but whose marriages go unrecognized by Pennsylvania.
Three of the couples and both of the teenage daughters are from Allegheny County.
Same-sex marriage is legal or soon will be in 13 states. The lawsuit asks a federal judge to prevent Pennsylvania officials from stopping gay couples from getting married and to force the state to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who wed in other jurisdictions. 29 states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.
Gary Van Horn, president of the Board of Directors for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, an LGBT rights advocacy group, praised Kane's decision.
“This is a huge development for Pennsylvania's LGBT community. We are one step closer to finally being treated as equal citizens and will anxiously await word from our Governor on his plans."
Lawyers in the case believe it is ultimately bound for the U.S. Supreme Court and could force the high court to rule on the core question of whether it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.