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Same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania

Legal status of
same-sex relationships
Previously performed and not invalidated
  1. Can be registered also in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten
  2. Licensed in some counties in Kansas but same-sex marriage is not recognized by the state
  3. Currently legal in St. Louis, Missouri
  4. When performed in Mexican states that have legalized same-sex marriage

*Not yet in effect

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Same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania became legal on May 20, 2014, when a U.S. federal district court judge ruled that the Commonwealth's 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.[1] The state had prohibited recognition of same-sex marriage by statute since 1996. It had never added such a ban to its state constitution.

The state has never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships and was the last state in the Northeast region where same-sex couples could not legally marry.[2]


  • Statutory ban 1
    • Related legislation 1.1
  • Attempts at constitutional ban 2
  • Federal court challenges 3
    • Whitewood v. Wolf 3.1
    • Palladino v. Corbett 3.2
      • Attempted intervention 3.2.1
      • Suspension of proceedings 3.2.2
      • Stipulated dismissal 3.2.3
  • State court challenges 4
    • Montgomery County license issuance 4.1
    • Commonwealth Court cases 4.2
      • Resolution of cases after Whitewood 4.2.1
  • Economic Impact 5
  • Public opinion 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Statutory ban

In September 1996, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved Representative Allan Egolf's (R-Perry) amendment to ban the performance and recognition of same-sex marriage by a vote of 177 to 16, after an effort to rule it unconstitutional failed by a vote of 171 to 29. The Senate passed the legislation on October 1 by a vote of 43 to 5.[3] Republican Governor Tom Ridge signed the amendment into law.[4]

Related legislation

Several attempts to recognize same-sex marriages failed in the state legislature, but failed while Republican Party had majorities in either the State Senate or House of Representatives.

On May 8, 1996, Egolf introduced HB 2604 in the House that would ban same-sex marriages and refuse to recognize marriages performed in other states. The bill bypassed the House Judiciary Committee in the hopes of speeding its passage before the next election. On June 28, the House considered a bill to amend Pennsylvania's Domestic Relations Act to allow for grandparents to adopt grandchildren over the objections of their parents. Representative Egolf introduced an amendment to this bill that paralleled his anti-marriage bill. The Republican-controlled House voted to add this anti-marriage amendment to the adoption bill. The vote on the amendment was 177-16. The bill, which had already passed the State Senate, was sent back for a concurrence vote. After this vote, the House recessed for the summer. On October 1, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 43-5 to concur with the anti-marriage language added by the House. Governor Ridge signed the act into law on October 8.[5][6]

Legislation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by amending the statute has been introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly several times. In May 2009, State Senator Daylin Leach introduced such a bill in the Senate.[7] State Representative Babette Josephs also introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. Both bills remained in committee.[8] In March 2013, Senator Leach introduced SB719.[9] In June 2013, Representatives Brian Sims and Steve McCarter introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the house, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor.[10]

Attempts at constitutional ban

In Pennsylvania, a constitutional amendment requires approval by both houses of the state legislature in two successive two-year sessions by majority vote before going to voters in a referendum.[11]

In 2006, five state representatives, with Pennsylvania State Representative Scott W. Boyd as a main sponsor, introduced House Bill 2381, proposing an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.[12] The bill had 87 cosponsors and was approved June 6, 2006, on a vote of 136–61.[12] The Senate approved the bill 38–12 on June 21, 2006. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives on June 22, 2006, where no action was taken.[13]

In 2008, a similar bill with State Senator Mike Brubaker as its main sponsor, Senate Bill 1250, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would have banned same-sex marriage and its "functional equivalent".[14] This language led to debate on whether the bill would not only ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, but also prevent hospital visitation, employer health benefits and recognition of a will for same-sex couples.[14] The bill was laid on the table on May 6, 2008 because the House of Representatives in the State Government Committee would not allow Senate Bill 1250 to be considered by the committee in a timely manner. Senator Brubaker requested the bill be laid aside. The Senate agreed to the motion by voice vote.[15]

In 2010, State Senator John Eichelberger introduced Senate Bill 707.[16] This proposed amendment failed in the Judiciary Committee, when all 5 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted to table the amendment, opposed by 6 Republicans.[17]

In 2011, State Representative Daryl Metcalfe introduced House Bill 1434 with 36 cosponsors on May 3.[18] It was referred to the Committee of State Government. The bill would amend the state constitutional to ban same-sex marriage and any substantial equivalent.[19] On March 13, 2012, opponents of the bill claimed victory when Metcalfe delayed a committee vote on the legislation.[8]

In 2013, he reintroduced the bill with 27 cosponsors on May 7, the lowest number of cosponsors the bill has had when introduced.[20]

Federal court challenges

Whitewood v. Wolf

On July 9, 2013, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, the ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of 23 plaintiffs—10 couples, 2 of their children, and a widow—seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's 1996 statutory ban on same-sex marriage.[21] Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a named defendant, said that she would not defend the statute,[22] but Governor Tom Corbett announced he would.[23]

On May 20, 2014, Judge John E. Jones III ruled in that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.[24] The ruling was not stayed and same-sex couples in Pennsylvania could request and receive marriage licenses immediately and marry after a mandatory 3-day waiting period.[25]> Anticipating legal maneuvers to stay Jones' ruling, dozens of same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses the same day and some obtained waivers of the state's three-day waiting period. At least one couple managed to celebrate their wedding on May 21.[26][27] Governor Tom Corbett announced on May 21 that he would not appeal Judge Jones' decision, effectively making Pennsylvania the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriage.[28]

The Schuylkill County court clerk responsible for responding to marriage license applications, Theresa Santai-Gaffney, repeatedly sought to intervene to defend the statute without success. She was rebuffed by Judge Jones,[29] the Third Circuit Court of Appeals,[30] U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito,[31] and again by the Third Circuit.[32][33]

Palladino v. Corbett

On September 26, 2013, a same-sex couple lawfully married under Massachusetts law filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking to require that Pennsylvania recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex partners as valid. The couple also seek a declaration that the statute outlawing in-state same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin. The defendants, Pennsylvania's governor and attorney general, filed motions to dismiss that November and December, respectively, with the plaintiffs responding in January 2014. The case, Palladino v. Corbett, was docketed number 2:13-cv-05641-MAM.[34]

Attempted intervention

On January 17, 2014, a group called the Philadelphia Metro Task Force, opposed to same-sex marriage recognition in Pennsylvania, sought to intervene in the lawsuit. This group alleges that, in allowing same-sex marriage, "reverse discrimination is threatened amidst a continual omission of religious and moral freedom." (internal quotes omitted) Judge McLaughlin denied the group's motion to intervene on March 4, 2014, because they "do not identify a sufficient interest they might have at stake in this litigation, nor do they demonstrate why their interests are not adequately represented by an existing party." She also denied the group amicus curiae status, meaning they could not even file a brief as a non-party to the case.[34]

Suspension of proceedings

Oral arguments for summary judgment in the case were held on May 15.[35] The case may have been rendered moot on May 21 when Governor Corbett decided not to appeal the decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, and as a result, same-sex marriage commenced throughout Pennsylvania.[36] On both May 22 and 28, Judge Mary McLaughlin ordered the plaintiff same-sex couples to show cause why their case should not be dismissed because of mootness. Judge McLaughlin issued an order on September 8 suspending further proceedings until "expiration of the deadline to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in Whitewood."[37]

Stipulated dismissal

After the Whitewood decision allowed the Palladino plaintiffs to lawfully marry in Pennsylvania, and the state defendants stipulated "that they will take no steps to deprive Plaintiffs of the benefits accorded by the validity and recognition of their marriage under Pennsylvania law", Judge McLaughlin ordered the case voluntarily dismissed as of October 22, 2014.[38]

State court challenges

Montgomery County license issuance

In July 2013, shortly after Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to defend Pennsylvania's prohibition of same-sex marriage in U.S. district court,[39] D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County Register of Wills and Clerk of the Orphans' Court, announced he would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He interpreted his Orphan's Court position as a judicial one and found that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses as the statutes required would violate their rights under the state constitution.[40][41][42] Between July 24 and August 9, 2013, he issued marriage licenses to more than 100 same-sex couples. A week later the Pennsylvania Department of Health filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to enjoin Hanes from issuing any more such licenses.[43][44]

Commonwealth Court cases

The lead state court case is Commonwealth v. Hanes.[1] Oral arguments were held on September 4, 2013.[46] On September 12, 2013, Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "[u]nless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced".[47][48] Hanes had issued 174 licenses to same-sex couples before the court issued its order and he appealed its decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.[49] Couples that received a marriage license from Hanes filed an amicus curiae brief on his behalf with the state supreme court on December 2, 2013. In the brief, the couples note that the court below never ruled on the substantive issue of same-sex marriage, and they argue for it.[50]

On September 6, 2013, in Cucinotta v. Commonwealth,[2] a Chester County same-sex couple filed a petition in Commonwealth Court asking the court to find Pennsylvania's restrictions on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[51]

On September 25, 2013, the group of 42 individuals who were married with licenses issued by Montgomery County Clerk Hanes, petitioned the Commonwealth Court in Ballen v. Corbett, later restyled Ballen v. Wolf,[3] after the parties agreed that the respondent would be Pennsylvania's secretary of health instead of its governor. The petitioners sought to overturn the state's same-sex marriage ban on the grounds that it violates both the state and federal constitutions.[52][53]

Resolution of cases after Whitewood

The cases pending in Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court were likely rendered moot on May 21 when Governor Corbett decided not to appeal the decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, which left in place the order in that case ending enforcement of Pennsylvania's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples.[36] On September 30, Judge Dan Pellegrini approved an agreement between the parties in in Ballen v. Wolf and ordered the case dismissed. The agreement provided that the Ballen petitioners and similarly-situated intervening parties are married under state law as of the May 20 order in Whitewood, even though the petitioners had received marriage licenses from Clerk Hanes and/or solemnized their marriages before that date.[54]

Economic Impact

A UCLA study[55] found that allowing same-sex couples to marry in Pennsylvania will add nearly $100 million to the state's economy.[56] Total spending related to weddings and wedding-related tourism will account for up to $92 million in the first three years, and state and local tax revenues are expected to increase by up to $5 million. Additionally, up to 1,142 new full- and part-time jobs are expected to be created by the additional economic activity.[55]

Public opinion

An April 2011 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that when Pennsylvania voters were asked to choose between same-sex marriage, civil unions, or no legal recognition of homosexual relationships, 30% supported same-sex marriage, 33% supported civil unions, and 35% opposed all legal recognition. 2% were not sure.[57]

A July 2011 PPP survey found that 38% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 51% thought it should be illegal and 11% were not sure. In a separate question offering voters the option of civil unions, 32% supported same-sex marriage, 36% supported civil unions, and 31% opposed all legal recognition. 1% were unsure.[58]

An August 2011 Franklin & Marshall survey found that 50% of Pennsylvanians supported a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage, while 42% opposed it and 8% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 62% of respondents supported a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, while 34% opposed it and 5% were not sure.[59]

A November 2011 PPP survey found that 36% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 52% thought it should be illegal and 12% were not sure. In a separate question offering voters the option of civil unions, 29% supported same-sex marriage, 35% supported civil unions, and 33% opposed all legal recognition; 1% were not sure.[60]

A May 2012 PPP survey found that 39% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 48% thought it should be illegal and 13% were unsure. Offered the option of civil unions, 35% supported same-sex marriage, 33% supported civil unions, and 28% opposed all legal recognition, 3% were unsure.[61]

A June 2012 Franklin & Marshall survey found that 48% of Pennsylvanians supported a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage, while 49% were against such an amendment, an increase of 6% in support since 2009. A separate question on the same survey found that 63% of respondents favored a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, while 33% were against such a law, an increase in support of 5% since 2009.[62]

A September 2012 Muhlenberg College survey found that 44% of Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriage being legal, while 45% wanted same-sex marriage to be illegal, with 11% unsure.[63]

A January 2013 Quinnipiac University poll found that 47% supported same sex marriage, while 43% were opposed to the idea. The poll also found that white Catholics in the state supported same sex marriage by a 50/40 margin, while white Protestants in the state opposed same sex marriage by a 60/31 margin.[64]

A January 29 – February 3, 2013 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 52% supported same sex marriage, while 41% were opposed.[65][66]

A March 2013 PPP survey found that 45% of Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriages and 47% opposed them; asked on the question of marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples in the state, over 74% of respondents indicated support for either (with 38% supporting marriage rights and 36% supporting civil unions but not marriage), with only 24% of respondents opposed to any civil recognition of same-sex couples and 2% not sure.[67]

A May 2013 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 54% supported same sex marriage, while 41% were opposed.[68]

A December 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 61% of Pennsylvania residents support same-sex marriage, while 35% opposed, and 3% didn't know or refused to answer.[69]

A February 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found that 57% supported same sex marriage, 37% were opposed to the idea, and 6% didn't know.[70]

A May 2014 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that 48% of Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriage being legal, while 44% wanted same-sex marriage to be illegal, with 9% unsure.[71]

See also


  1. ^ Pa. Supreme Court Docket No. 77 MAP 2013, Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 379 MD 2013, accessible here.[45]
  2. ^ Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 451 MD 2013
  3. ^ Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 481 MD 2013


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  37. ^ McLaughlin, Mary,  
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External links

  • Senate Bill No 935
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