PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage has been overturned by a federal judge in a decision that makes same-sex matrimony legal throughout the Northeast.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III’s decision Tuesday is a victory for 11 couples, a widow and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters who filed the first challenge to the law. Gov. Tom Corbett’s office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.
Pennsylvania was the last remaining state in the Northeast to outlaw gay marriage.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the law inflicts harm on same-sex couples and their children by depriving them of the legal protections and tax benefits afforded to married couples.
An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
A federal judge was scheduled to issue a ruling Tuesday afternoon on the legality of Pennsylvania’s 1996 same-sex marriage ban.
U.S. District Judge John Jones plans to issue his ruling in Harrisburg after 2 p.m., according to a court website. The plaintiffs include same-sex couples, their children, a widow and others who say the ban deprives them of the legal and tax benefits enjoyed by married couples.
One of the plaintiffs, Maureen Hennessey, married her longtime companion, Mary Beth McIntyre, out of state in 2011. McIntyre died in May after battling cancer.
“I am so excited right now – really optimistic,” Hennessey said Tuesday ahead of the ruling. “The only thing missing today is Mary Beth beside me. We knew this day would come eventually.”
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage.
Oregon became the 18th state on Monday, when jubilant couples began applying for marriage licenses immediately after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a ruling that invalidated that state’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.
Also Monday, a federal judge in Utah ordered state officials to recognize more than 1,000 gay marriages that took place in the state over a two-week period before the U.S. Supreme Court halted same-sex weddings with an emergency stay.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast to outlaw gay marriage.
Gov. Tom Corbett has fought to uphold the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it in court.
The losing side in the Pennsylvania case was expected to appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
Jones could therefore put his ruling on hold during the appeal. Absent such a stay, same-sex couples could race out to seek marriage licenses Tuesday afternoon. State law requires a three-day waiting period before couples marry, although that rule can sometimes be waived.
The Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed July 9, was the first known challenge to the state law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and the recognition of gay marriages from other states.
At least five later challenges have surfaced in state and federal courts since the lawsuit was filed, including one in which a county official is defending his decision to issue 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Corbett’s lawyers argued in support of the ban last week in a separate lawsuit over “marriage recognition.” A lesbian couple in Philadelphia who married in Massachusetts in 2005 has asked the court to force Pennsylvania to legally recognize their marriage.
A Quinnipiac University poll in February showed that 57 percent of about 1,400 Pennsylvania voters surveyed approve of same-sex marriage, compared with 37 percent who are opposed.