HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s governor ended his fight Wednesday to stop same-sex marriage in the state, allowing a growing number of couples to proceed with their wedding plans with greater peace of mind.
A federal judge Tuesday struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and Gov. Tom Corbett announced Wednesday he would halt his court fight because “the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal.”
The governor’s decision means same-sex marriage will remain legal in Pennsylvania, without the threat that a higher court will reinstate the ban.
U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III struck down a 1996 state law banning recognition of gay marriage, calling it unconstitutional. One widow, 11 couples and one couple’s teenage daughters had sued. Their lawyers said it is extremely unlikely that another party would be allowed to appeal it.
Corbett’s decision goes against the Republican governor’s personal beliefs. He opposes same-sex marriage and supported thus-far unsuccessful efforts to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. In October, he took heat for comparing the marriage of same-sex couples to the marriage of a brother and sister.
“As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered,” Corbett said in a statement. “I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal.”
Corbett, who is seeking re-election this year facing poor public approval ratings, has sought in recent months to move to the political center and away from staunchly conservative positions on several hot-button issues.
At an unrelated public event in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Corbett declined to discuss the decision beyond the statement. He said he has personal feelings about the issue, but “I’m going to keep it to myself.”
Pennsylvania is the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriages and the last northeastern U.S. state to do so. Hundreds of gay couples rushed to apply for marriage licenses after Jones’ ruling Tuesday.
At least one couple even got married.
On Wednesday, about an hour before Corbett revealed his decision, Pamela VanHaitsma and Jess Garrity of Pittsburgh were married in front of a district judge, said their lawyer, Sam Hens-Greco.
Pennsylvania requires a three-day waiting period before a couple with a marriage license can wed, but Hans-Greco asked a county judge to waive it, he said. The judge did, and they got married right away.
A suburban Pittsburgh couple, Stephen Miller and Jim Devaty, plan to get married next week after more than two decades together. They applied for their license online Tuesday after Jones struck down the law.
“I’m in shock,” Miller said Wednesday. “In a way, I never thought I’d live to see the day when Jim and I could get married.”
They’ll crack a bottle of champagne they’ve been saving and plan a gathering for family and friends. They’re not sure where yet, but their son, 6-year-old Aiden, suggested the backyard.
“We’re anxious, we’re excited,” Miller said. “It’s been almost 24 years that we’ve been together. We’re excited to make it legal.”