Main | Friday, November 15, 2013

PENNSYLVANIA: Judge Rejects Motions To Dismiss Marriage Equality Lawsuit

Big progress in Pennsylvania this morning.
A federal court challenge to Pennsylvania's 17-year-old law banning the recognition of same-sex marriages took an important step toward a trial Friday when a judge rejected two different attempts to block the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III denied the motions to dismiss the lawsuit by Pennsylvania's secretaries of the departments of Health and Revenue and Bucks County's register of wills. It is a strong sign the case is headed to trial and, potentially, the U.S. Supreme Court. In a note at the end of his 10-page decision, Jones set a Nov. 22 conference and advised lawyers in the case to be "fully prepared" to discuss the starting date of a trial. Every northeastern state except Pennsylvania allows gay marriage. The lawsuit, filed July 9 by civil rights lawyers on behalf of a widow, 10 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters, was the first-known challenge to a 1996 Pennsylvania law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and recognition of such marriages from other states.
There are several other marriage suits pending in Pennsylvania. (Tipped by JMG reader Whabbear)

UPDATE: Via press release from the ACLU.
In his ruling, Judge John E. Jones III rejected arguments from the commonwealth and Donald Petrille, Jr., the Register of Wills for Bucks County, that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed as a matter of law because of a 1972 decision holding that a gay couple was not entitled to a marriage license. Judge Jones’ opinion noted that the law at issue in this case has “undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change” in the past four decades.

The next step in the case will be a case management conference, open to the public, on Friday, November 22 at 10 a.m. in Courtroom #2 of the federal courthouse in Harrisburg. At the conference, a schedule will be set for discovery and trial. On November 7, 2013, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that changed the commonwealth officials named as defendants and added an additional plaintiff couple, Sandy Ferlanie and Christine Donato of Swarthmore, who wish to wed in Pennsylvania.

Lawyers involved in the case include Vic Walczak, Mary Catherine Roper, and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; James Esseks and Leslie Cooper of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project; Aronchick, Helen Casale, John S. Stapleton, Dylan J. Steinberg, and Rebecca S. Melley of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

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