In May, anti same-sex marriage laws were struck down in three different states, including in Pennsylvania. These events are legally significant because they have resulted in the number of states that legally allow same-sex marriage rising to 19. These historic changes, often through the reversal of same-sex marriage bans, represent interesting family law-related issues.
The Lift of the Same-Sex Marriage Ban in Pennsylvania
Earlier this week a federal judge ordered the invalidation of the 1996 Pennsylvania law that banned gay marriage, through the use of a definition of marriage as being only between a woman and a man. The judge’s ban was based on the unconstitutionality of the 1996 law, an argument that has been used in other states to support judicial bans of anti-gay marriage laws. From the very beginning it seemed inevitable that the law, which was supported by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, would be eventually struck down. In fact the State Attorney General of Pennsylvania actually refused to defend the law in court.
However, the Governor personally appointed a defense team to defend the anti-gay marriage ban. The defense was not able to persuade the federal judge that the law was not an issue of civil rights laws not being equally applied to all Pennsylvania citizens. While invoking 14th amendment protection, the federal judge stated that “The fundamental right to marry as protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right to marry a person of one’s own sex.” In addition to banning the law, the federal judge issued an official order that permanently barred Pennsylvania authorities from prohibiting or preventing the receipt of marriage licenses by same-sex couples. As a result same-sex couples can immediately apply for marriage licenses in Pennsylvania. Though it is assumed that the Governor will appeal this decision, the history made in Pennsylvania will undoubtedly be upheld.
The State of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.
There are now 19 states in the U.S. that allow same-sex marriage, which collectively hold 44 percent of the complete U.S. population. As a result, all states in the northeast region, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and now Pennsylvania all allow same-sex marriage. Furthermore, a day before the ruling was entered, a similar ruling was entered by a federal judge in Oregon.
The lifting of these same-sex marriage bans occurred through various legal channels. Popular vote allowed the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, Washington, and Maine. Legislative action led to the approval of gay marriage in New York, Vermont, Illinois, Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and Minnesota. The right to same-sex marriage was upheld through the court systems in Iowa, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, and Oregon.
Looking for more information about same-sex marriage in the northeast? Contact the family law attorneys here at Greenberg & Krieger LLP in Fairfield County, Connecticut for any family law issues that you may be facing.