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Overturning Pennsylvania's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” wrote Judge John E. Jones III in his Tuesday ruling, ending Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. 

It was a sudden, entirely unexpected ruling from a judge appointed by President George W. Bush and endorsed by Rick Santorum. The public was further surprised when Republican Governor Tom Corbett decided not to appeal the decision.

The ruling was met with jubilation by same-sex couples across the state, who can now marry, and for those who married out-of-state and want their union recognized in PA.

Asserting human rights or disregarding democracy? 

Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, has been fighting the Defense of Marriage Act in PA for many years. Michael Geer, President of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, was one of many conservatives disappointed with the ruling. Both Walczak and Geer discussed their differing opinions of the ruling. 
“I actually think he was fairly courageous, he’s in some ways damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t by agreeing not to appeal,” Walczak said of Governor Corbett's response.

“Which is obviously what we wanted him to do, he may be cutting off his right flank politically, or at least making them not entirely happy … but on the other hand, he is now going to be on the right side of history, because there is no question about where this movement is going.”

Geer said he believed the definition of marriage should be decided by the legislature, and not a judge.

“In [the ACLU’s July 2013] press conference, they stated that public opinion was swinging in their direction, and I would ask them the question then and would ask it again, if public opinion is going in your direction, why not use the public policy process? People’s elected representatives, as was the case in New York or in Maryland, let the people go and vote, or in other states, rather than short-circuiting the process and letting one unelected judges impose his views on all of Pennsylvania.”

Local ramifications

“It waters down the meaning of marriage.” Bishop Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh wrote in a press release shortly after the same-sex marriage ban was overturned.

But plenty of Pittsburghers were ecstatic about the news. Among them was Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, the city’s first openly gay council member and a longtime supporter of LGBT rights. Another is Deborah Whitewood of Bridgeville, who was a plaintiff in the legal case brought against the state.

Kraus and Whitewood both expressed their joy over having the law overturned. Whitewood and her partner Susan were legally married in the state of Maryland last October for their 20th anniversary. She explained what the ruling will now mean for their marriage. 

"Nothing really changes for our family except for we just continue on with our lives knowing now that the state will 100% recognize the survivor benefits, the tax benefits. If I go to the hospital now, i don't think I will be as concerned about carrying my power of attorney paperwork with me. I’ll just be able to say Susan’s my spouse and be allowed to be seen with her,” said Whitewood.  

Kraus, who has fought for civil and equal rights in his lifetime, talked about the legacy of this ruling.

“What this ruling does is it reaffirms Brown vs. Board of Education, that societies cannot exist with separate laws for people. We struck down separate but equal decades ago, and that’s what’s, in my opinion, at the heart and soul of the ruling that came down, that all mankind is truly created equally and are entitled to equal benefit under the law.”

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