A federal judge said on Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. It was the last state in the Northeastern with a ban on gay marriages.
According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, if Pennsylvania doesn’t appeal the decision, all Northeastern states will now have legalized same-sex marriages in various ways.
Voters in Maine passed a ballot measure allowing same-sex marriages; court rulings in New Jersey and Massachusetts approved the unions; and lawmakers in seven Northeastern states and the District of Columbia approved same-sex marriages.
In Tuesday’s decision, Judge John E. Jones III agreed with arguments made by the American Civil Liberties Union that a state law banning same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.
“Same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection,” Jones wrote.
Jones also said that, “Pennsylvania now join[s] the twelve federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage.”
On Monday, a federal judge in Oregon made a similar decision.
“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” said U.S. District Judge Michael McShane.
Same-sex marriage supporters have now won 14 cases in a row where state bans on the unions were in place. In all, gay marriages are now allowed in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and that total could rise to 19 states if the decisions in Oregon and Pennsylvania aren’t appealed.
Many judges have cited last year’s Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision in their rationale for tossing out the same-sex marriage bans.
In his dissent last year, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted in Windsor v. United States that the bans would face legal issues based on the language used in the majority’s decision.
“As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by ‘ “bare . . . desire to harm” ’couples in same-sex marriages. … How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status,” Scalia said.
Many cases are also headed to the appeal stage amid speculation that the recent decisions would wind up again in the Supreme Court’s hands in the near future.
For example, in January the U.S. Supreme Court intervened and granted the Utah attorney general’s office a stay of the ruling that overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals considered the case.
This week, a federal court recognized about 1,200 marriages performed during a 17-day period in Utah before the stay was issued.
Two federal appeals courts are now considering bans that were struck down in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia. A split among the appeals courts could hasten the issue’s arrival at the Supreme Court during its next term.
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