Recognition of same-sex unions in Pennsylvania

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The U.S. state of Pennsylvania does not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. Since October 21, 2013, Pennsylvania has been the only state in the Northeast region where same-sex couples cannot legally marry.[1]

Current law[edit]

Pennsylvania has had a statute defining marriage as the union of "one man and one woman" and banning the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions since 1996:[2][3]

It is hereby declared to be the strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.

Whitewood v. Wolf[edit]

On July 9, 2013, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, the ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of 23 plaintiffs—10 couples, 2 of their children, and a widow—seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's 1996 statutory ban on same-sex marriage.[4] The case, originally Whitewood v. Corbett, was assigned to Judge John E. Jones III.[5] On July 11, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a named defendant, said she would not defend the statute as she "endorse[d] equality and anti-discrimination laws" and the statute was "wholly unconstitutional".[6] On July 30, Governor Tom Corbett announced he would defend the statute.[7]

All parties agreed to having Corbett's name removed as a defendant.[8] The remaining named defendants are the state health and revenue secretaries, and the Bucks County register of wills.[7] On November 15, U.S. District Judge Jones rejected the state defendants' motion to dismiss the suit. The judge found that while Baker v. Nelson was precedent, it did not require him to find that denial of marriage equality is outside federal jurisdiction because "[t]he jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972," foremost being the recent Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor.[9] Jones set the trial date for June 9, 2014.[10] In early December, the state's attorneys asked Jones to allow them to ask the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on whether Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent.[11]

Palladino v. Corbett[edit]

On September 26, 2013, a same-sex couple lawfully married under Massachusetts law filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking to require that Pennsylvania recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex partners as valid. The couple also seek a declaration that the statute outlawing in-state same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The case was assigned to District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin. The defendants, Pennsylvania's governor and attorney general, filed motions to dismiss that November and December, respectively, with the plaintiffs responding in January 2014.[12]

On January 17, 2014, a group called the Philadelphia Metro Task Force, opposed to same-sex marriage recognition in Pennsylvania, sought to intervene in the lawsuit. This group alleges that, in allowing same-sex marriage, "reverse discrimination is threatened amidst a continual omission of religious and moral freedom." (internal quotes omitted) Judge McLaughlin denied the group's motion to intervene on March 4, 2014. In a written order, she denied the Metro Task Force intervention as defendants because they "do not identify a sufficient interest they might have at stake in this litigation, nor do they demonstrate why their interests are not adequately represented by an existing party." Going further, the judge denied the group amicus curiae status, disallowing them the privilege of filing a brief as a non-party.[12]

On March 14, 2014, Judge McLaughlin set oral arguments for summary judgment in the case on May 28 at the U.S. Courthouse in Pennsylvania.[13]

Commonwealth Court cases[edit]

In July 2013 Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane refused to defend Pennsylvania's gay-marriage prohibition in U.S. district court (see cases listed above), calling the Pennsylvania statute forbidding such "wholly unconstitutional."[14]

Following this decision, D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County Register of Wills and Clerk of the Orphans' Court, announced he would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He interpreted his Orphan's Court position as a judicial one, and thus having discretion, and found that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses per statute would violate rights given his reading of the state constitution. He issued the first such marriage license on July 24, 2013 and by August 9, 2013, had issued marriage licenses to more than 100 same-sex couples. A week later the Pennsylvania Department of Health filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against Hanes to legally enjoin him from issuing any more licenses.[15][16][17][18][19]

The case is Commonwealth v. Hanes.[a] Oral arguments were held on September 4, 2013.[21] On September 12, 2013, Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "[u]nless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced".[22][23] Hanes had issued 174 licenses to same-sex couples before the court issued its order and he has appealed its decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.[24] Couples that received a marriage license from Hanes filed an amicus curiae brief on his behalf with the state supreme court on December 2, 2013. In the brief, the couples note that the court below never ruled on the substantive issue of same-sex marriage, and they argue for it.[25]

On September 6, 2013, in Cucinotta v. Commonwealth,[b] a Chester County same-sex couple filed a petition in Commonwealth Court seeking to find Pennsylvania's restriction of same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[26]

On September 25, 2013, the group of forty-two (42) individual petitioners, those who were married with licenses issued by Montgomery County Clerk Hanes (see above), separately petitioned the Commonwealth Court. The case is Ballen v. Corbett, later restyled Ballen v. Wolf,[c] after parties agreed that the respondent would be Pennsylvania's secretary of health instead of its governor. The petitioners are seeking to overturn the state's same-sex marriage ban on the grounds that it violates both the state and federal constitutions.[27][28]

Same-sex marriage legislation[edit]

Legislation to extend marriage to same-sex couples by amending the statute has been introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly several times. In May 2009, State Senator Daylin Leach introduced such a bill in the Senate.[29] State Representative Babette Josephs also introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. Both bills remained in committee.[30] In March 2013, Senator Leach introduced SB719.[31] In June 2013, Reps. Brian Sims and Steve McCarter, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the house, following the US Supreme Court ruling.[32]

Civil unions[edit]

State Representative Mark B. Cohen introduced a bill in 2011 to provide for civil unions, but it died in committee.[33] He re-introduced it in the 2013 session, and the bill is pending.[34]

Attempts at constitutional ban[edit]

In Pennsylvania, a constitutional amendment requires approval by both houses of the state legislature in two successive two-year sessions by majority vote before going to voters in a referendum.[35]

In 2006, five state representatives, with Pennsylvania State Representative Scott W. Boyd as a main sponsor, introduced House Bill 2381, proposing an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.[36] The bill had 87 cosponsors and was approved June 6, 2006, on a vote of 136–61.[36] The Senate approved the bill 38–12 on June 21, 2006. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives on June 22, 2006, where no action was taken.[37]

In 2008, a similar bill with State Senator Mike Brubaker as its main sponsor, Senate Bill 1250, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would have banned same-sex marriage and its "functional equivalent".[38] This language led to debate on whether the bill would not only ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, but also prevent hospital visitation, employer health benefits and recognition of a will for same-sex couples.[38] The bill was laid on the table on May 6, 2008 because the House of Representatives in the State Government Committee would not allow Senate Bill 1250 to be considered by the committee in a timely manner. Senator Brubaker requested the bill be laid aside. The Senate agreed to the motion by voice vote.[39]

In 2010, State Senator John Eichelberger introduced Senate Bill 707.[40] This proposed amendment failed in the Judiciary Committee, when all 5 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted to table the amendment, opposed by 6 Republicans.[41]

In 2011, State Representative Daryl Metcalfe introduced House Bill 1434 with 36 cosponsors on May 3.[42] It was referred to the Committee of State Government. The bill would amend the state constitutional to ban same-sex marriage and any substantial equivalent.[43] On March 13, 2012, opponents of the bill claimed victory when Metcalfe delayed a committee vote on the legislation.[30]

In 2013, he reintroduced the bill with 27 cosponsors on May 7, the lowest number of cosponsors the bill has had when introduced.[44]

Local domestic partnerships[edit]

Map of Pennsylvania counties, cities, and boroughs that offer domestic partner benefits either county-wide or in particular cities.
  City offers domestic partner benefits
  County-wide partner benefits through domestic partnership
  County or city does not offer domestic partner benefits

While domestic partnerships are not offered statewide, the city of Philadelphia offers 'life partnerships' in the case of a "long-term committed relationship between two unmarried individuals of the same gender who are residents of the City of Philadelphia; or one of whom is employed in the City, owns real property in the City, owns and operates a business in the City, or is a recipient of or has a vested interest in employee benefits from the City of Philadelphia."[45][46] The city of Pittsburgh also provides domestic partnerships.[47] County employees in Luzerne County are required to identify if they are in a domestic partnership, which is explicitly defined as being between people of the same gender.[48]

Public opinion[edit]

An April 2011 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that when Pennsylvania voters were asked to choose between same-sex marriage, civil unions, or no legal recognition of homosexual relationships, 30% supported same-sex marriage, 33% supported civil unions, and 35% opposed all legal recognition. 2% were not sure.[49]

A July 2011 PPP survey found that 38% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 51% thought it should be illegal and 11% were not sure. In a separate question offering voters the option of civil unions, 32% supported same-sex marriage, 36% supported civil unions, and 31% opposed all legal recognition. 1% were unsure.[50]

An August 2011 Franklin & Marshall survey found that 50% of Pennsylvanians supported a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage, while 42% opposed it and 8% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 62% of respondents supported a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, while 34% opposed it and 5% were not sure.[51]

A November 2011 PPP survey found that 36% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 52% thought it should be illegal and 12% were not sure. In a separate question offering voters the option of civil unions, 29% supported same-sex marriage, 35% supported civil unions, and 33% opposed all legal recognition; 1% were not sure.[52]

A May 2012 PPP survey found that 39% of Pennsylvania voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 48% thought it should be illegal and 13% were unsure. Offered the option of civil unions, 35% supported same-sex marriage, 33% supported civil unions, and 28% opposed all legal recognition, 3% were unsure.[53]

A June 2012 Franklin & Marshall survey found that 48% of Pennsylvanians supported a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage, while 49% were against such an amendment, an increase of 6% in support since 2009. A separate question on the same survey found that 63% of respondents favored a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, while 33% were against such a law, an increase in support of 5% since 2009.[54]

A September 2012 Muhlenberg College survey found that 44% of Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriage being legal, while 45% wanted same-sex marriage to be illegal, with 11% unsure.[55]

A January 2013 Quinnipiac University poll found that 47% supported same sex marriage, while 43% were opposed to the idea. The poll also found that white Catholics in the state supported same sex marriage by a 50/40 margin, while white Protestants in the state opposed same sex marriage by a 60/31 margin.[56]

A January 29 – February 3, 2013 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 52% supported same sex marriage, while 41% were opposed.[57][58]

A March 2013 PPP survey found that 45% of Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriages and 47% opposed them; asked on the question of marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples in the state, over 74% of respondents indicated support for either (with 38% supporting marriage rights and 36% supporting civil unions but not marriage), with only 24% of respondents opposed to any civil recognition of same-sex couples and 2% not sure.[59]

A May 2013 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 54% supported same sex marriage, while 41% were opposed.[60]

A December 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 61% of Pennsylvania residents support same-sex marriage, while 35% opposed, and 3% didn't know or refused to answer.[61]

A February 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found that 57% supported same sex marriage, 37% were opposed to the idea, and 6% didn't know.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pa. Supreme Court Docket No. 77 MAP 2013, Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 379 M.D. 2013, accessible here.[20]
  2. ^ Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 451 M.D. 2013
  3. ^ Pa. Commonwealth Court Docket No. 481 M.D. 2013


  1. ^ Heller, Karen (October 24, 2013). "Pennsylvania stands alone on yet another issue". Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ Gabriel, Trip (July 9, 2013). "A.C.L.U. Sues Pennsylvania Over Ban on Gay Marriage". New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues: § 1704. Marriage between persons of the same sex., accessed July 12, 2013
  4. ^ "A.C.L.U. Lawsuit Aims to Overturn Pennsylvania's Ban on Gay Marriage". New York Times. July 9, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ Lord, Rich (July 10, 2013). "Judge named to handle case trying to legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (July 11, 2013). "Pa. attorney general says she won’t defend state's gay marriage ban". Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Lindstrom, Natasha (July 30, 2013). "Corbett to defend Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban". Herald-Standard (Uniontown). Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  8. ^ Lord, Rich (November 1, 2013). "Corbett dropped in Pennsylvania gay marriage lawsuit". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  9. ^ Warden, Amy (November 17, 2013). "Judge clears way for trial on Pa. gay marriage ban". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  10. ^ Jackson, Peter (November 23, 2013). "Judge Sets June 9 Trial on Pa. Gay Marriage Suit". ABC News. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  11. ^ Spencer, Saranac Hale (December 9, 2013). "Corbett pushing for Third Circuit to clarify law in gay marriage case". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 9, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "Memorandum Opinion, Palladino v. Corbett. Civil Action No. 13-5641.". March 4, 2014. 
  13. ^ McLaughlin, Mary (U.S. District Judge). "Order Setting Motion Hearing, Palladino v. Corbett". Case Number 13-5641, PACER Entry 45 (3/14/2014). United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (11 July 2013). "Who is Kathleen Kane?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  15. ^ Parks, Jessica (July 23, 2013). "Montgomery County will issue same-sex marriage licenses". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Pennsylvania county clerk goes rogue for marriage equality". July 25, 2013. 
  17. ^ Gibbons, Margaret (July 24, 2013). "Same sex couples receiving marriage licenses in Montco in defiance of state ban". Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Montco issues 100th license to same-sex couple". August 11, 2013. 
  19. ^ Cole, Jeff and Shawnette Wilson (July 30, 2013). "Pennsylvania Sues To Stop Montco's Same-Sex Marriage Licenses". Philadelphia, PA: WTXF-TV. Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ "Pa. court to hear gay marriage arguments on Sept. 4". Observer Reporter. August 20, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health v. D. Bruce Hanes, in his official capacity as the Clerk of the Orphans’ Court of Montgomery County". September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 
  23. ^ "County clerk in Pennsylvania ordered to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples". Equality on Trial. September 12, 2013. 
  24. ^ Jackson, Peter (December 2, 2013). "Montco clerk urges state to allow him to issue gay marriage licenses". The Mercury. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Brief of Amicus Curiae Same-Sex Couples, Commonwealth v. Hanes". Supreme Court of Pa., Docket No. 77 MAP 2013. December 2, 2013. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Brief of Respondent Wolf, Ballen v. Wolf". Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Docket No. 481 M.D. 2013. February 18, 2014. 
  28. ^ "New court challenge from 21 couples filed to overturn gay marriage ban". PennLive. September 25, 2013. 
  29. ^ Barnes, Tom (May 28, 2009). "Senator pushes bill to allow same-sex marriage". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  30. ^ a b Worden, Amy (March 15, 2012). "Gay-marriage bills stalled in Pennsylvania". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved April 4, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Senate Bill 719, Regular Session 2013-2014". October 1, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Gay marriage bill introduced in state House". Philly. June 27, 2013. Retrieved July 12, 2013. 
  33. ^ Bill Information for HB 708, 2011–2012 session.
  34. ^ Bill Information for HB 1178, 2013–2014 session.
  35. ^ "Pennsylvania Constitution". Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
  36. ^ a b Barnes, Tom (June 7, 2006). "Pa. House passes gay marriage ban". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
  37. ^ "The Pennsylvania General Assembly". March 20, 2006. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  38. ^ a b Barnes, Tom (March 19, 2008). "Panel OKs constitutional ban on gay marriage". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 24, 2009. 
  39. ^ "The Pennsylvania General Assembly". March 18, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  40. ^ "The Pennsylvania General Assembly". Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  41. ^ "The Pennsylvania Senate - Senate Committee Roll Call Votes". March 16, 2010. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  42. ^ "The Pennsylvania General Assembly". Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  43. ^ "Regular Session 2011-2012 House Bill 1434 P.N. 1724". May 3, 2011. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  44. ^ "Bills against gay bias on move in Harrisburg". May 8, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013. 
  45. ^ Philadelphia City Code § 9-1102. 
  46. ^ "Domestic Partnerships". June 7, 1996. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  47. ^ "Ravenstahl Signs Legislation For Domestic Partner Registry". June 22, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2011. 
  48. ^ By Michael P. Buffer (Staff Writer). "County code compels same-sex couples to identify relationship - News". Citizens Voice. Retrieved June 21, 2012. 
  49. ^ "Pennsylvanians favor civil unions for gay couples" (PDF). Retrieved June 21, 2012. 
  50. ^ Pennsylvania supports Civil Unions at record breaking 36%
  51. ^ "Survey of Pennsylvanians: Summary of Findings" (PDF). Retrieved June 21, 2012. 
  52. ^ Pennsylvania still supports Civil Unions
  53. ^ "PA blacks shift quickly in favor of gay marriage". Public Policy Polling. Retrieved May 23, 2012. 
  54. ^ "Poll: Corbett Net Loss, Gay Marriage Net Gain" (PDF). June 6, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  55. ^ "Muhlenberg College/Morning Call 2012 Pennsylvania Presidential" (PDF). September 28, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2012. 
  56. ^ "Pennsylvania Voters Want Stricter Gun-Control, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Voters Lean Slightly To Same-Sex Marriage". Quinnipiac University. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  57. ^ "Franklin & Marshall College Poll" (PDF). Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  58. ^ "New Poll Shows Majority in Pennsylvania Support Marriage Equality". Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  59. ^ "Support for gay marriage in Pennsylvania on the rise". Public Policy Polling. March 13, 2013. 
  60. ^ "Franklin & Marshall College Poll". May 8, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  61. ^ A Shifting Landscape
  62. ^ "Pennsylvania Results". Quinnipiac University Polling. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 

External links[edit]