HARRISBURG – Plaintiffs in a challenge to Pennsylvania’s 1996 law banning same-sex marriage made a big change in strategy Monday, asking a federal judge to bypass a trial in favor of a quick ruling in the case.
The civil rights lawyers representing a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters filed papers in federal court in Harrisburg asking for a decision on the law’s constitutionality.
The lawyers said they no longer see the need for a trial, which had been scheduled to begin June 9, because they said lawyers for Gov. Tom Corbett have not disputed their claims.
The plaintiffs said the gay marriage ban is unlawful because it prevents them from getting the same legal protection and tax benefits afforded to married couples.
“Today, we have provided the court with moving personal stories from all of our plaintiff families describing how this ban hurts them and their loved ones,” said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is helping represent the plaintiffs. “We hope the judge will see the profound harm caused by this law and strike it down.”
Corbett’s lawyers are defending the constitutionality of the law and have two weeks to respond to the motion, Walczak said. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
If U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III decides to bypass a trial, a summary judgment means he could render a decision on the law at any time.
Every northeastern state except Pennsylvania recognizes same-sex marriages. Seventeen states now recognize gay marriage. The ACLU said there have been 11 consecutive successful decisions in federal district courts in challenges to other state laws banning same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit, filed July 9, was the first known challenge to a 1996 Pennsylvania law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and recognition of such marriages from other states.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union and the Philadelphia law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.