ACLU’s Pennsylvania Marriage Suit May Get 2014 Trial

The American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge to Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage may get a 2014 trial date, according to the judge weighing the schedule for the case filed on behalf of 10 gay couples.

There’s no reason the case shouldn’t be tried next year instead of 2015, the date suggested by lawyers for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and other defendants, U.S. District Judge John Jones said today during a scheduling conference in Harrisburg.

“I just don’t see a basis for this to persist into 2015,” Jones told lawyers.

The ACLU’s complaint, filed in July on behalf of the gay couples, a widow and two children, is one of at least four lawsuits brought in Pennsylvania after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which had denied federal benefits to married gay couples.

The schedule will depend on the ACLU’s suit surviving a slew of defenses that lawyers for the state raised this week in seeking dismissal of the case, including Corbett’s immunity from being sued in federal court.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits lawsuits against state officials in federal courts without their consent unless the official has a special relationship to the challenged laws, William Lamb, a West Chester, Pennsylvania-based lawyer for Corbett, said in an Oct. 7 filing. The immunity extends to state agencies and departments, according to the filing.

‘General Duty’

“Plaintiffs in this case make no claim any more specific than that the governor has the general duty to see that the law is carried out,” Lamb said in the filing.

Lamb also argued that the suit should be dismissed because of a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide state marriage laws.

In addition to Corbett, the ACLU’s complaint names as defendants Michael Wolf, secretary of the state’s department of health; Attorney General Kathleen Kane and two county Registers of Wills. Kane, a Democrat, announced in July that she wouldn’t defend a challenge to the state’s marriage ban, which she called “wholly unconstitutional.”

Last month, Pennsylvania’s Office of the General Counsel hired a private legal team headed by Lamb, a former state Supreme Court justice, to represent the state.

Jones said today he plans to request written papers on the motions to dismiss by the end of the month. A ruling on those arguments could come in the first two weeks of November, Jones said.

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

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