A new day for same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania

May 24, 2014

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III could not have been more forthright in his opinion of statutes outlawing same-sex marriage:

“We are a better people than these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

Pennsylvania’s 18-year-old law prohibiting same-sex unions was unceremoniously tossed into the aforementioned ash heap last Tuesday when Jones, a federal court judge, ruled in unflinching terms that the ban violated the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples when it denied civil marriage to them, citing the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. While acknowledging that same-sex marriage “causes discomfort” among some Pennsylvanians, that fact by itself “does not make its prohibition constitutional.”

Comparing it to past struggles for civil rights, Jones, an appointee of President George W. Bush, stated that tradition cannot take precedence when it comes to guaranteeing that all citizens are treated fairly: “Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’ In the 60 years since (Brown v. Board of Education) was decided, ‘separate’ has thankfully faded into history, and only ‘equal’ remains.”

Within 24 hours, Gov. Tom Corbett – most assuredly thinking ahead to November and hoping to fashion a more moderate image – announced that he would not be appealing Jones’ ruling, citing the likelihood of failure.

No matter his motives, though, we can applaud Corbett’s judgment and be thankful that hundreds of same-sex couples around the commonwealth can proceed with their plans to be wed without any further impediment.

Though the ruling caused a considerable stir when it was announced Tuesday, it was not a complete surprise.

In the wake of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision scratching out a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, laws enjoining same-sex marriage have been tumbling across the nation.

The day before the Pennsylvania ruling, Oregon became the 18th state to usher in marriage equality, and the commonwealth became the final state in the Northeastern United States to legalize same-sex marriage.

We have no doubt that, before too long, the other 32 states will be on board. Need proof? In Pennsylvania, 57 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage in a March Quinnipiac poll, and, according to a survey commissioned the same month by The Washington Post and ABC News, the number of Americans who supported same-sex marriage outnumbered those who opposed it in every region of the country.

The rapid turnaround in public opinion on same-sex marriage since Massachusetts first allowed it in 2003 has been remarkable, and perhaps without precedent.

The cries of protest after the ruling came down were predictable, and, as they have been all along, empty.

Michael Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Institute opined that “children have a right to a father and mother,” ignoring the fact that same-sex marriage would solidify the families already established by gay and lesbian couples, and that what he called “natural marriage” is an institution that “brings a man and woman together for children.”

So take that, all you folks embarking on second or third marriages, or tying the knot in your 50s and beyond – your childless unions, by that logic, are not “natural.”

But the objections of Geer and others like him will soon seem as antiquated and repellent as the civil rights opponents of the 1950s and 1960s who insisted that African-Americans should travel in the back of the bus. As Jones stated in his ruling, for future generations, “the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by ‘marriage.’”



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