Earlier today, Harrisburg-based Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones, III, struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. In this landmark ruling, Jones concluded that "same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth."
In 1996 Pennsylvania amended its Domestic Relations Code to limit marriage to opposite sex couples and prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages. Today, that law was declared unconstitutional when Judge Jones held that "the fundamental right to marry as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right to marry a person of one’s own sex" and that Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban infringes upon that right.
Judge Jones wrote that "certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not guaranteed the right to marry the person they love. Nor does Pennsylvania recognize the marriages of other couples who have wed elsewhere. . . . We now join 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."
Judge Jones also noted that "in over half of states including Pennsylvania, gay and lesbian individuals lack statewide, statutory protections against discrimination in housing and public accommodation, as well as in firing, refusal to hire, and demotion in private-sector employment." While Judge Jones’ ruling has no impact on state or federal employment discrimination laws, like last year’s United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, this decision will have implications for Pennsylvania employers and their employee benefit plans.
Stay tuned to this blog for future updates.