Judge sets June 9 trial on Pa. gay marriage suit

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HARRISBURG – A federal judge Friday set June 9 as the trial date for a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s gay-marriage ban.


U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III scheduled the trial at the federal courthouse in Harrisburg and set a timetable for pre-trial motions and other paperwork following a meeting with lawyers in the case.


He rejected as unnecessary a defense request to delay the trial until August.


“I’m an optimist by nature,” Jones said.


Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that bars same-sex marriage. Nationally, Illinois this week joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing it.


State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who took office in January, has refused to defend the law in court, saying it violates the state and federal constitutions.


Friday’s meeting came a week after Jones denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the two major defendants – the secretaries of the state departments of Health and Revenue.


William Lamb, a former state Supreme Court justice who heads the private legal team that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett hired to defend the state officials, said he plans to appeal Jones’ ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by next week.


The defendants’ motion cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision to argue that federal courts lack jurisdiction over state marriage laws. But Jones said that decision has been eroded by the court’s subsequent rulings on constitutional challenges based on sex or sexual identity.


“The jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972,” Jones said in his opinion.


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