U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Pennsylvania’s 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Judge Jones said, “By virtue of this, ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.” Before the ruling, Pennsylvania was the last state in the Northeast where same-sex couples could not legally marry.
The decision came after 21 Pennsylvanians challenged the constitutionality of the 1996 ruling in Whitewood vs. Wolf. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and volunteer counsel, is named for Deb and Susan Whitewood, a same-sex couple with three children. Although the Bridgeville residents had a Holy Union ceremony at their church in 1993, they were not legally recognized as a married couple and did not have the same legal protections as other families. Judge Jones’ ruling will allow the women to be legally married in the state of Pennsylvania.
Other plaintiffs include Philadelphia resident Maureen Hennessey. Maureen lived with her partner Mary Beth McIntyre for 29 years until Mary Beth’s death earlier this year. When Mary Beth was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2009, Maureen left her job as a school teacher to care for Mary Beth and manage her home business. The couple was married in Massachusetts in 2011, but Pennsylvania did not recognize the marriage. When Mary Beth died, Maureen had to pay a 15 percent inheritance tax on all their shared property, including their home. Maureen can now be legally recognized as Mary Beth’s widow.
On May 20, couples like the Whitewoods celebrated Judge Jones’ ruling. On May 21, 2014, there was more to celebrate. PA Governor Tom Corbett announced that he would not appeal the ruling. This decision will allow legal marriage to become a reality for thousands of same-sex couples. Same sex couples married in other states will have their marriage recognized in Pennsylvania.
Petrelli Previtera Schimmel believes that all families have a right to legal protections. We applaud Judge Jones’ ruling and Governor Corbett’s decision allowing same sex couples the constitutional right to marry. This is a big step towards equality for all Pennsylvania families.