Updated: 5:30 p.m. EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s governor ended his fight Wednesday to stop same-sex marriage in the state, allowing a growing number of couples to proceed with their wedding plans with greater peace of mind.
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and Gov. Tom Corbett announced Wednesday that he would halt his court fight because “the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal.”
The governor’s decision means that same-sex marriage will remain legal in Pennsylvania, without the threat that a higher court will reinstate the ban.
U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III struck down a 1996 state law banning recognition of gay marriage, calling it unconstitutional. One widow, 11 couples and one couple’s teenage daughters had sued. Their lawyers said it is extremely unlikely that another party would be allowed to appeal it.
Corbett’s decision goes against his political beliefs. He opposes same-sex marriage and supported thus-far unsuccessful efforts to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
But he says an appeal would be “extremely unlikely to succeed.”
Following is Corbett’s complete statement:
“I have thoroughly reviewed Judge Jones’ opinion in the Whitewood case. Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal. Therefore, after review of the opinion and on the advice of my Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not to appeal Judge Jones’ decision.
“As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as Governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal.
“Throughout the debate on this important and meaningful issue, I have maintained that Commonwealth officials and agencies would follow the provisions of Pennsylvania ‘s marriage law unless or until a court says otherwise. The court has spoken, and I will ensure that my administration follows the provisions of Judge Jones’ order with respect for all parties.
“It is my hope that as the important issue of same-sex relationships continues to be addressed in our society, that all involved be treated with respect.”
Corbett, who is seeking re-election this year facing poor public approval ratings, has sought in recent months to move to the political center and away from staunchly conservative positions on several hot-button issues.
Pennsylvania is the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriages and the last northeastern U.S. state to do so. Hundreds of gay couples rushed to apply for marriage licenses after Jones’ ruling Tuesday.
At least one couple even got married.
On Wednesday, about an hour before Corbett revealed his decision, Pamela VanHaitsma and Jess Garrity of Pittsburgh were married in front of a district judge, said their lawyer, Sam Hens-Greco.
Pennsylvania requires a 3-day waiting period before a couple with a marriage license can wed, but Hans-Greco said he asked a county judge to waive it. The judge did and they got married right away.
The lead lawyers in the case, Witold J. Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union and Mark Aronchick, cheered the governor’s decision.
“We applaud the governor for letting the constitutional principles of freedom and equality ring throughout Pennsylvania by allowing loving same-sex couples to marry,” they said in a statement. “As the judge noted, we are a better people than the marriage ban and the governor’s historic decision not to appeal will be an enduring legacy.”