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Pennsylvania marriage equality trial to take place in June

LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

Pennsylvania state sealA little piece of big news out of Pennsylvania: the challenge to that state’s marriage equality laws–which survived two dismissal attempts earlier this month–will be heard in a full trial in June 2014.  The AP reports:

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III told lawyers he would allow two weeks for the trial. Jones said he would set a specific date and a timetable for pretrial discovery and depositions soon. He rejected as unnecessary a defense request to delay the trial until August.

“I’m an optimist by nature,” the judge told lawyers for both sides at the conclusion of an hourlong meeting.

The federal lawsuit is the first of at least six state and federal court suits challenging aspects of the 17-year-old Pennsylvania law. Civil rights lawyers filed it in July on behalf of plaintiffs who include a widow, 11 couples and one couple’s two teenage daughters.

William Lamb, a former justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who is leading the private legal team tapped by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to defend the state’s laws, said he would appeal Judge Jones’s decision not to dismiss the lawsuit to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals before next week.

As we wrote in our coverage of Jones’s decision earlier this month to take the case to trial, it seems likely that the eventual proceedings will take a hard look at one of the most stubborn roadblocks that has faced LGBT advocates seeking equal marriage rights:

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. MichaelinFlorida  |  November 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

    So how is a district judge in Nevada able to use Baker as justification?

  • 2. sfbob  |  November 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Baker was not technically a decision but as I understand it there are technicalities that make it usable as one. I don't get why anyone is still able to use Baker as a precedent, though that could be chalked up to me not being a lawyer. Still, the legal climate is entirely different from what it was 40 years ago when, let's face it, there were probably still plenty of legal minds around that considered rulings prior to Loving vs Virginia ("anti-miscegenation laws apply with the same force to all races so there's no discrimination") perfectly adequate. Romer plus Lawrence ought to have completely eliminated any validity Baker may have had. And with the addition of Windsor, even the district judges in NV and HI (the latter having been trumped of course by this month's vote) who'd upheld those states' marriage bans would now need to apply a different standard.

  • 3. Eric  |  November 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    The judge in Nevada is a Mormon.

  • 4. Dr. Z  |  November 25, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    BYU graduate, in fact. In fact he referred to the Nevada case as a "circus."

  • 5. Straight Ally #3008  |  November 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I just watched 8: The Mormon Proposition. I hadn't appreciated the full extent of their involvement. Thankful that it failed in Hawaii, but their influence still reverberates.

  • 6. Straight Dave  |  November 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    He is only "able" to use Baker until the 9th gets ahold of his decision and quickly reverses it. Judges can do anything they want, at least temporarily. But if they're too careless/negligent/bigoted, their reputation and career opportunities get damaged. And their most egregious errors sometimes get corrected.

  • 7. Zack12  |  November 25, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    It certainly will in this case. The judge didn't even bother to hide his contempt for the plantiffs or gay marriage.

  • 8. bayareajohn  |  November 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

    A reporting request – consider giving more hints of the issues at hand. In this article, it's difficult to understand who is challenging what if you aren't already familiar with the ongoing suits. "the challenge to that state’s marriage equality laws–which survived two dismissal attempts earlier this month–will be heard in a full trial in June 2014." What is the position of the law and the challenge? It's not as slightly implied, an "equality law" being challenged, it's an INEQUALITY law. It takes careful reading and more implication that if it's been 40 years and based on ROMER, it's probably NOT "equality".

  • 9. icapricorn  |  November 26, 2013 at 5:20 am

    I was also confused by this mangling of the language. The phrase should read: "the challenge to that state’s gay marriage bans." The plaintiffs are the gay people; the defendant is the state, which wishes to maintain the bans.

    Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that clumsy phrasing has muddled an issue on this site. Please take more care. There is no other site like this one: where all the marriage equality news can be found in one place.

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