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ACLU announces three new marriage equality suits, pushes forward in Illinois suit

Darby/Lazaro Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

By Jacob CombsPennsylvania state seal

Some big news out of the LGBT legal world: the ACLU today announced plans today for three new marriage equality lawsuits, one of which it filed today in a Pennsylvania court seeking equal marriage rights on behalf of 23 plaintiffs.

According to the New York Times, a key impetus for the new federal challenge, filed in a district court in Harrisburg, is the makeup of the Pennsylvania legislature, whose deep-red hue makes it unlikely that marriage equality legislation could be approved in the next few years.  Pennsylvania law prohibits marriage between individuals of the same sex, although the state does not have a constitutional amendment banning such unions.

In addition to the Pennsylvania suit, the ACLU plans to redouble its legal efforts in North Carolina, where it will today amend the initial complaint filed in a case called Fisher-Borne v. Smith in which six couples filed suit seeking second-parent adoption rights.  The amended complaint will call for an invalidation of North Carolina’s Amendment One, the marriage equality ban voters approved last May to be added into the state constitution.  The ACLU is teaming up with the ACLU of North Carolina in that case.

The third lawsuit, in cooperation with Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia, will be filed later this summer in Virginia, and is currently in the planning stages, including a search for the right plaintiffs.

In the Pennsylvania case, Whitewood v. Corbett, the plaintiffs allege that Pennsylvania’s marriage equality ban violates both the due process and equal protection rights in the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.  The complaint alleges that the law should be considered under heightened scrutiny “because it burdens the fundamental right to marry and because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation.”

Ultimately, the end goal for equal marriage advocates behind new lawsuits like the ones announced today by the ACLU is a Supreme Court ruling mandating nationwide marriage equality.  “We think what the map of the country looks like is going to make a big difference to how the issues in the case feel to the Supreme Court,” James Esseks, national director of the ACLU’s LGBT project, told the New York Times. “Will we have the 13 states plus D.C., or will we be at 20 or more?”

In addition to today’s announcement, the ACLU and Lambda Legal said today that they will file a motion for summary judgment in an Illinois state court seeking an end to two combined marriage equality lawsuits in that state known as Darby v. Orr and Lazaro v. Orr.  The groups plan to file the new motion tomorrow.


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