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Pa. lawyers defend state’s gay marriage ban, ask court to dismiss lawsuit

Thursday, February 20, 2014
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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Lawyers for Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration are urging a state judge to uphold Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage by throwing out a lawsuit brought by more than two dozen same-sex couples that challenges its constitutionality.

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.)

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.)

Attorneys for Health Secretary Michael Wolf filed a brief Tuesday in Commonwealth Court, opposing the lawsuit brought by 21 same-sex couples who obtained marriage licenses from a suburban Philadelphia court clerk last year.

They drew distinctions between the case and last year’s landmark gay marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the ruling did not say states must allow or recognize same-sex marriage or say it would be a constitutional violation to limit marriages to between a man and a woman.

“Same-sex marriage is not deeply rooted in our nation’s history so as to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty and, therefore, cannot be considered a fundamental right,” the attorneys argued, adding that a majority of states still limit marriages to between a man and a woman.

“The very recent developments among a minority of states do not transform same-sex marriage into a ‘deeply rooted’ historical and traditional right,” the state’s lawyers said.

The Pennsylvania suit is one of several court challenges to the ban.

Alexander Bilus, who represents the couples who filed the lawsuit, called the administration’s briefs unconvincing and said his side would produce a response for the court. Bilus said judicial decisions that have been generated in the wake of the United States v. Windsor case that resulted in the landmark ruling have tended to support his clients’ position.

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“Windsor stands for the proposition that a state law like Pennsylvania’s marriage law is based on an animus against a particular group, and for that reason violates both the United States and the Pennsylvania constitutions,” Bilus said.

The filing by the Corbett administration was a brief in support of its preliminary objections as it attempts to have the case thrown out at an early stage. The plaintiffs have several weeks to respond. A trial date has not been set.

The plaintiffs obtained marriage licenses last year from Bruce Hanes, an elected court clerk in Montgomery County, before a state judge ordered him to stop the practice. Hanes had issued 174 licenses between the time when the Windsor case was decided in June and the state court’s order in September. He is appealing that decision.

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