ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Pennsylvania's Marriage Law

Three weeks after the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Tuesday that it has filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania which challenges the state's definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, as well as its failure to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU filed the suit on behalf of 23 state residents, including 10 same-sex couples, two minor children of those couples, and one widow whose partner of 29 years passed away recently, according to an ACLU media statement.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU urges the state to lift its statute prohibiting same-sex marriage and recognize same-sex marriages from other states, arguing that by continuing its Defense of Marriage Act, it is "[violating] the fundamental right to marry, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

"Plaintiffs argue that the court should closely scrutinize this discriminatory treatment because the state's Defense of Marriage Act burdens the fundamental right to marry and because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation," the ACLU said in a statement.

The ACLU also announced Tuesday that it will be filing a lawsuit contesting Virginia's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the near future, and an amended lawsuit in North Carolina which seeks to lift the state's ban on same-sex marriage as well as ensure the ability of same-sex couples to obtain second-parent adoption for their children.

Thomas Peters, communications director for the National Organization for Marriage, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, told The Washington Post that it proves telling that the ACLU has filed so many lawsuits regarding same-sex marriage, instead of putting the issue up for a vote on the next state ballot.

"We think it's very telling gay marriage advocates are using the courts so heavily," Peters told The Washington Post.

"They only support the voice of the people when they think it will go their way."

The Washington Post reported that Pennsylvania state law requires that resolutions be approved by state legislature before they can be put up for a ballot vote, and no same-sex marriage resolution has yet to pass legislature.

Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage, told The New York Times that the ACLU's lawsuit takes the decision regarding same-sex marriage out of the hands of the people.

"The fact the ACLU is turning to the courts to try to redefine marriage takes it out of the hands of the people," he said.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have contested the issue being put on a ballot because they believe it to be a civil rights issue that should be addressed in court.

According to local ABC affiliate Channel 6, the lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Pennsylvania on Tuesday was not spurred by the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, in which the justices determined that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, thus enabling married gay couples to receive the same tax, health and retirement benefits that are available to married heterosexual couples.

Pennsylvania is one of six states with a statute prohibiting same-sex marriage; the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a law in 1996 defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

At the time, fewer than 25 legislators out of 240 in the state opposed the law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, according to Pennsylvania Family Institute's Michael Geer.

Proponents of same-sex marriage reportedly believe that legalizing same-sex marriage in individual states will ultimately be a positive influence when the issue of same-sex marriage is once again addressed by the Supreme Court in the upcoming years.

"The issue is getting back to the U.S. Supreme Court," James Esseks, director of the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, told The Washington Post.

Esseks added that over six challenges to same-sex marriage bans are already pending in federal court, including in Nevada, Hawaii, and Michigan. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

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