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Pa. accused of stalling in federal challenge to same-sex marriage ban

Monday, December 16, 2013
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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Lawyers in a federal court challenge to Pennsylvania’s law that bans same-sex marriage on Monday accused the state’s lawyers of using delay tactics and making unreasonable and intrusive requests for information from their clients, including whether they were ever in an opposite-sex relationship.

Marc Levy, AP
ACLU lawyer Witold J. Walczak speaks alongside many of the 23 men, women and children who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Pa. ban on same-sex marriage.

Witold J. Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in a letter that the requests demand irrelevant, highly private and sensitive information.

The firm Gov. Tom Corbett’s office hired to defend the law, Lamb McErlane of West Chester, responded in its own letter to the judge that the plaintiffs’ lawyers did not explain their concerns before Monday’s deadline to respond to the information requests, and that meeting before the deadline seemed premature.

Jones has set June 9 as the trial date in a lawsuit that is ultimately expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Every northeastern state except Pennsylvania allows gay marriage. The lawsuit seeks to force Pennsylvania to allow same-sex marriage and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally wed elsewhere. It was the first-known challenge to a 1996 Pennsylvania law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and recognition of such marriages from other states.

The lawsuit was filed July 9 by the ACLU and other civil rights lawyers on behalf of a widow, 10 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters. An 11th couple was added last month to the list of plaintiffs.

Among the requests, said Walczak, are whether any of the plaintiffs were ever in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex and names and contact information for every person with whom they resided over the last 10 years.

The state is also seeking the identity of all health care providers from whom the plaintiffs sought treatment or counseling for harm they allegedly suffered as a result of allegations in the lawsuit, Walczak wrote.

“Not only do these requests invade highly private and sensitive areas, none of them involve relevant information or are likely to lead to discovery of relevant information,” Walczak wrote.

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The lawsuit also carries no requests for damages, he noted.

Other information requests by the state’s lawyers are unduly burdensome, including correspondence, letters, notes, records, reports, diaries or any other writings that pertain to the subject or events on which the lawsuit is based, Walczak wrote.

The response letter, by lawyer William H. Lamb, did not address Walczak’s complaints about the information requests. Rather, he wrote that the plaintiffs’ lawyers did not “precisely articulate” their concerns before Monday. Walczak said two long emails to the state’s lawyers had previously outlined their concerns.

Jones set a Thursday conference call to discuss the matter.

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