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Pennsylvania judge rules marriage equality trial can proceed

Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

Pennsylvania state sealOn Friday, a federal district judge in Pennsylvania rejected two separate efforts to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to bring marriage equality to the state, making it more likely the challenge will be considered through a trial similar to the one that decided the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.  The AP reports:

A federal court challenge to Pennsylvania’s 17-year-old law banning the recognition of same-sex marriages took an important step toward a trial Friday when a judge rejected two different attempts to block the lawsuit and said high court treatment of cases involving sex and sexual identity have undergone a “sea change.”

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III denied the motions to dismiss the lawsuit by Pennsylvania’s secretaries of the departments of Health and Revenue and Bucks County’s register of wills.

The move by Judge Jones, a Republican appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, means a trial is quite likely.  As the AP notes, Judge Jones set a Nov. 22 conference in the case and told lawyers for both sides they should be “fully prepared” to discuss a start date for the trial.

Because Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, opposes equal marriage rights, his administration would almost certainly appeal a pro-marriage equality ruling, an appeal that could make its way up to the Supreme Court.

The defendants’ motions to dismiss relied predominantly on Baker v. Nelson, a more than 40-year old U.S. Supreme Court decision dismissing a marriage equality challenge out of Minnesota “for want of a substantial federal question.”  That decision has never been formally annulled by the high court, and due to court rules at the time, it is technically considered binding precedent on lower courts unless circumstances have so changed that it would no longer make sense to rely on the rationale in Baker.

In his decision, Judge Jones argued that Baker is no longer persuasive, writing, “The jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972.”


  • 1. Seth From Maryland  |  November 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

    UK, Scotland: Parliament Has the Votes to Pass Marriage Equality Bill
    Written by scott on November 18th, 2013
    Scotland – Google Maps
    from Google Maps
    It looks like Scotland’s marriage equality bill should pass its first hurdle easily this week.
    On Top Magazine reports:

    A vote count shows that as may as 116 out of 127 members of the parliament of Scotland could favor a gay marriage bill set for debate next week. The Scottish Mail on Sunday published a vote count which shows 86 lawmakers in favor, 10 undecided and 20 refusing to answer. Only 11 MSPs have confirmed that they plan to vote against the measure as it faces its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday. While a final vote remains nearly a year away, securing approval “in principle” is likely to ensure passage.
    Previous reporting has said that the law would take effect sometime next year, but the On Top Magazine article says weddings wouldn’t begin until 2015. Anyone have any more information on that?

  • 2. Straight Ally #3008  |  November 18, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Even though John E. Jones III is a George W. Bush appointee, who was recommended to the federal bench by Rick Santorum (!), he surprised the religious right by destroying the creationists in the Dover school board decision in 2005. It remains the most serious legal defeat for the anti-evolution forces in at least a decade. No one would mistake Judge Jones for a raging liberal, but he does follow the Constitution diligently and fearlessly – he endured death threats after the Dover case. Very glad he'll be the one presiding over this trial.

  • 3. Johan  |  November 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I vividly remember Judge Jones and his ruling in Kitzmiller vs Dover, the Intelligent Design (ID) or creationism in disquise case. Here is the ruling:

    It is delicious reading. If the defendants behave anything like the defendants in the Perry case, they are in for a terrible smackdown. Some quotes from the ruling:

    "The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial."

    And this:

    "Although as noted Defendants have consistently asserted that the ID Policy was enacted for the secular purposes of improving science education and encouraging students to exercise critical thinking skills, the Board took none of the steps that school officials would take if these stated goals had truly been their objective. The Board consulted no scientific materials. The Board contacted no scientists or scientific organizations. The Board failed to consider the views of the District’s science teachers.
    The Board relied solely on legal advice from two organizations with demonstrably religious,
    cultural, and legal missions, the Discovery Institute and the TMLC. Moreover, Defendants’ asserted secular purpose of improving science education is belied by the fact that most if not all of the Board members who voted in favor of the biology curriculum change conceded that they still do not know, nor have they ever known, precisely what ID is. To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop is ludicrous.
    Finally, although Defendants have unceasingly attempted in vain to distance themselves from their own actions and statements, which culminated in repetitious, untruthful testimony […]"

    Judge Jones also writes about the need to preserve the separation of church and state.

  • 4. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  November 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Also of note: Judge Jones in the Dover case showed the ability to cut through the crap and obfuscation of the defendants' expert witnesses. He also believes in the "belt and suspenders" model of jurisprudence, so if this goes to trial, expect a Walker-esque ruling: a comprehensive and total demolition of the anti-ssm arguments. This will be Prop 8 Trial: Part 2 (unless it gets a summary judgment).

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