A federal judge overturned Pennsylvania's ban on state recognition of gay marriage Tuesday, making it the last state in the Northeastern corner to legalize same-sex marriage.
Judge John Jones ruled that the ban violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and issued an order that could allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses as early as Wednesday morning.
"In future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage. We are better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," Jones wrote, reports USA Today.
In his decision, Jones also noted that despite same-sex marriage making some citizens "deeply uncomfortable," that discomfort "does not make its prohibition constitutional." Furthermore, he said that in the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education challenged the premise of separate but equal, "'separate' has thankfully faded into history and only 'equal' remains."
The ruling was the outcome of a lawsuit, Whitehead v. Wolf, filed last July on behalf of 21 individuals seeking the right to marry or for the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages. The suit challenged a law passed by the state legislature in 1996 that restricted marriage to the union between a man and a woman.
Jones called the plaintiffs "courageous" and noted that the state now joins "12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage."
Several states have taken action to redefine the marriage definitions passed by voters since the Supreme Court's "Windsor" decision last year, which rejected parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional but did not find a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution.
Although gay rights advocates hail the ruling as a victory, Jones' decision is not necessarily final as the commonwealth has 30 days to decide whether to appeal. Prior to the ruling, the state's Democratic attorney general, Kathleen Kane, made it clear that she would not defend the state's gay marriage ban and it is unclear now whether Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the new ruling.
However, Christian leaders are calling on Corbett's administration to take action and appeal Jones' decision immediately.
"The administration owes it to the people of Pennsylvania to pursue this matter vigorously through the court system, and give marriage the defense it requires and deserves," Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement.
He added, "This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where the people have already seen the insult of the Attorney General abandoning her oath of office and refusing to defend marriage. The administration stepped in to right that wrong in this case, and we urge them to continue to render justice by providing a defense of Pennsylvania's marriage laws."
If Jones' decision stands, Pennsylvania will become the 19th state where gay marriage is allowed, which would total nearly 44 percent of the American population, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Earlier this week, Oregon also overturned a same-sex marriage ban to recognize marriage between gay men and lesbians.