Two weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States overturned key provisions in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The 23 plaintiffs, including 10 same-sex couples, one widow, and two teenage children of one of the couples, say they've seen firsthand the inequality of PA law in its discrimination against same-sex couples.
ACLU Staff Attorney Molly Tack-Hooper and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, Anthony Infanti, weigh in on the legality of the lawsuit and the path for equality in Pennsylvania paved by the repeal of DOMA.
Pennsylvania has emerged as one of the first states to challenge bans on same-sex marriage. Tack-Hooper points out that it “is the lone northeastern state without marriage equality or civil unions” and at this point, the public support for equality is obvious, but support from the legislature is absent.
“Pennsylvania has an important place in our nation’s history. We think it’s time to secure the freedom to marry in the state where the Constitution was born.” Tack-Hooper says in reference to the silence by many politicians throughout the region.
Much of current law in regards to financial and federal benefits in the state depends on marital status. Because same-sex couples are legally unable to marry or be recognized for a marriage they may have had in other states, these couples and their children are seeing higher tax rates and restricted access to rights like medical care for their spouses. Straight couples, for example, are exempted from the Inheritance Tax in Pennsylvania. Same-sex couples, because they are not legally recognized, must pay a 15% tax on any inherited property were their spouse to die.
Infanti explains that after the DOMA decision, it was only a matter of time before states started filing lawsuits such as the one by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. He says the majority opinion issued by the Supreme Court has essentially served as a “roadmap” for attorneys waiting to challenge such marriage bans.
“More litigation was coming…and this [DOMA] case was paving the way for these kinds of cases,” Infanti says, adding that the case may take a few years, but will start to gain momentum as other states take on similar cases.