Pennsylvanians Sue to Overturn State’s Gay-Marriage Ban

Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and must be overturned, a group of state citizens backed by the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a lawsuit against Governor Thomas Corbett.

Twenty-three plaintiffs including Deb and Susan Whitewood, a couple for 22 years, filed the suit in federal court in Harrisburg to void Pennsylvania’s “defense of marriage act,” which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“This law cannot stand under any level of scrutiny because excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not further any legitimate government interest,” Mark Aronchick, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement from the ACLU. “It serves only to insult and hurt lesbian and gay couples and their families.”

Advocates for same-sex marriage are seeking to expand the number of states where it’s legal in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay couples. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

Pennsylvania’s Office of General Counsel is reviewing the complaint, according to Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman.

Bills Proposed

A bill introduced by Pennsylvania state Senator Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Wayne, that would provide full marriage rights for same-sex couples was referred to a committee in March and never had a hearing. The Senate recessed last week and won’t return until September.

State Representative Brian Sims, the Philadelphia Democrat who became the first openly gay member of the chamber last year, plans to introduce a similar bill, his district coordinator, Tim Keller, said today.

Pennsylvania’s Marriage Law was amended in 1996 to prohibit marriage for same-sex couples and bar recognition by the state of gay marriages established in other states, according to the complaint. The Whitewoods entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2001.

The group also said today it plans to file a lawsuit in Virginia as co-counsel with Lambda Legal arguing for the right to same-sex marriage, and to amend an existing lawsuit, on behalf of same-sex couples seeking adoption rights in North Carolina, to include a marriage claim.

The case is Whitewood v. Corbett, U.S. District Court, 13-cv-01861 Middle District of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).