Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban has officially fallen.
Hopes to revive the 1996 law – which defined marriage as an institution between one man and one woman – were dashed Wednesday when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett announced he would not continue the legal battle.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down the Keystone State’s ban on same-sex nuptials Tuesday, making Pennsylvania the 19th state and last in the Northeast to embrace marriage equality.
“Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” said Corbett, who will face off for re-election against Democrat Tom Wolf in November. “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.”
Corbett added that his personal opposition to same-sex nuptials has not changed – a position that puts him in the national minority, according to the latest Gallup poll, which found 55% of Americans now in favor of marriage equality.
“As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered,” he said. “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.”
Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane has refused to defend Pennsylvania’s ban since practically the moment the challenge against it was filed. Corbett’s decision means that no one from the state is left to appeal.
“We applaud the governor for letting the constitutional principles of freedom and equality ring throughout Pennsylvania by allowing loving same-sex couples to marry,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania who filed the suit, 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.”
Marriage equality comes to Pennsylvania nearly one year after the nation’s highest court brought an end to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and unleashed a flood of litigation over the rights of gay and lesbian couples to wed. In the last 11 months, six states have legalized same-sex nuptials, bringing the total number to 19, plus the District of Columbia. Federal judges have also struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas and Utah, though their decisions are on hold for the duration of the appeals process.
Also on Wednesday, four couples filed a federal challenge to Montana’s same-sex marriage ban, leaving just two states – North Dakota and South Dakota – entirely untouched by marriage equality legislation.