The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania to overturn its 1996 law banning same sex marriage and recognition of same sex marriages performed in other states. Filed on July 9, it is the first of many anticipated lawsuits expected to ride on the Supreme Court’s rulings last month striking down Section 3 of DOMA and Prop 8. The ACLU’s Pennsylvania suit represents 23 plaintiffs including a doctor, teenage children of a same-sex couple, and a Vietnam veteran. Lawsuits are planned next in Virginia and North Carolina.
Starting with Pennsylvania, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS project, hopes to put pressure on the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. “Pennsylvania recognizes straight people’s marriages from Maine and New York, but it doesn’t recognize gay people’s marriages from Maine and New York,” said Esseks. “The question is, why?”
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane (D), asks the same question. Kane, the first woman elected to the office, refused to defend the state against the ACLU’s lawsuit on July 11 in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. In California, the Attorney General refused to defend the state against a similar suit involving Prop 8 which led to the Supreme Court decision, clearing the way for same-sex marriages there. Is Pennsylvania next?
Kane invoked the Pennsylvania Constitution’s intolerance of unequal treatment based on race, religion, and physical disability and said that “it is now the time here in Pennsylvania to end another wave of discrimination.” In Pennsylvania, the Attorney General is elected as head of an independent department and can refuse to defend a law that he or she believes to be unconstitutional. Governor Tom Corbett’s (R) general counsel could provide defense, but Kane has sent a strong message and is backed by ever-growing support of marriage equality.
Kane has fought Corbett on many issues, most famously until now his initial inquiry into the sex-abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky. However, this move has the most powerful political punch yet. Without Kane defending Pennsylvania, the ACLU has greater potential to bring the issue of marriage equality up the judicial ranks, questioning the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s ban at the federal level.