Judge weighs Pennsylvania same-sex marriage ban

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PHILADELPHIA – Lawyers for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett defended the state’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage in federal court Thursday, arguing judges should not undermine the collective view of the state’s legislature.


But a lawyer for a lesbian couple who want their Massachusetts marriage recognized in Pennsylvania called the one-man, one-woman rule a product of “anachronistic and narrow-minded” lawmakers.


“We do not have a long history of same-sex marriage in part because there has been a long history of intolerance” lawyer Michael Banks argued. He said courts have historically redressed those wrongs, first in cases involving race, then gender and now sexual orientation.


The “marriage recognition” case argued before U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin is part of a multi-pronged strategy by advocates to legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania. Another federal judge will hear a broader challenge of the state’s same-sex marriage ban next month, while a state appeals court will review scores of same-sex marriage licenses issued by Democratic officials in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia.


The test cases follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark “Windsor” ruling last June, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The ruling spawned a string of successful challenges to same-sex marriage bans across the country, and McLaughlin said she will have to craft a ruling in line with it.


Corbett’s lawyer, though, argued the Supreme Court stopped short of outlawing state bans on same-sex marriage.


“Recent developments do not transform same-sex marriage into a deeply-rooted, historical right,” lawyer Joel Frank argued.


Banks’ clients, Cara Palladino and Isabelle Barker, work at Bryn Mawr College and have a 5-year-old son. They moved to Pennsylvania for work months after they married in 2005. They live in a diverse city neighborhood, and said they enjoy progressive, open-minded colleagues at work.


“We’ve been very fortunate … to carve out lives where we’ve been able to protect our son from experiencing stigma,” said Barker, an assistant dean.


But they know that could change. Their lawsuit argues Pennsylvania has more than 600 laws, statutes or regulations that treat married and single people differently – from inheritance taxes to name changes and child custody issues.


“We’re in a strong position right now: We’re healthy, we have jobs, we have people who support us,” Barker said. “(But) the time you need protections in life are when you’re in a vulnerable position, not in a strong one.”


Frank argued against their claim Pennsylvania was denying them their right to be married.


“Pennsylvania didn’t take away their rights,” Frank said. “The plaintiffs chose to move to the Commonwealth.”


The judge did not say when she would rule on the state’s motion to dismiss the case.


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