Whitewood v. Wolf

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Whitewood v. Wolf
MD pa seal.jpg
District Court Docket: 1:13-cv-1861
Court of Appeals Docket: 14-3048
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Full case name Deb Whitewood, et al.,
Michael Wolf,
in his official capacity as Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health, et al.,
Date decided May 20, 2014
Citations 992 F. Supp. 2d 410
Judge sitting John E. Jones III, U.S.D.J.
Case history
Subsequent actions Petition for rehearing denied, No. 14-3048 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2014), application for stay denied sub nom. Santai-Gaffney v. Whitewood, No. 14A19 (U.S. Sup. Ct. July 9, 2014), denial of intervenor status summarily affirmed, appeal ordered dismissed, sub nom. Whitewood v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Health, No. 14-3048 (3d Cir. July 3, 2014); intervenor status denied (M.D. Pa. June 18, 2014)
Case holding
State enjoined from enforcing same-sex marriage ban; such bans violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

Whitewood v. Wolf is the federal lawsuit that successfully challenged the Pennsylvania Marriage Laws,[a] as amended in 1996 to ban same-sex marriage. The district court's decision in May 2014 held that the Marriage Laws violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. Same-sex couples immediately sought and received marriage licenses and the decision was not appealed. One county clerk sought repeatedly without success to intervene to defend the law.


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.[1] The case, originally Whitewood v. Corbett, was assigned to Judge John E. Jones III.[2] On July 11, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a named defendant, said that she would not defend the statute as she "endorse[d] equality and anti-discrimination laws" and that the statute was "wholly unconstitutional".[3] On July 30, Governor Tom Corbett announced he would defend the statute.[4]

Pretrial motions[edit]

All parties agreed to having Corbett's name removed as a defendant.[5] The remaining named defendants are the state health and revenue secretaries, and the Bucks County register of wills.[4] On November 15, 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.[6] 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. Judge Jones denied this interlocutory appeal on December 17, writing "this Court is rightfully in position to consider and assess such doctrinal advancements [since Baker]."[7][8]

On April 21, 2014, plaintiff same-sex couples filed a motion for summary judgment in Whitewood v. Wolf, which would allow the court to rule solely on the briefs without a trial. The state defendants agreed to dispense with trial as well.[9]

U.S. district court ruling[edit]

On May 20, 2014, Judge Jones ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.[10] He applied intermediate scrutiny and declared that the ban violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution.[11] The ruling was not stayed and same-sex couples in Pennsylvania could request and receive marriage licenses immediately and marry after a mandatory 3-day waiting period.[12][13] Anticipating legal maneuvers to stay Jones' ruling, dozens of same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses the same day and some obtained waivers of the state's three-day waiting period. At least one couple managed to celebrate their wedding on May 21.[14][15]

Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett announced on May 21 that he would not appeal Judge Jones' decision, effectively making Pennsylvania the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriage.[16]

Proposed intervention[edit]

On June 6, the Schuylkill County court clerk responsible for responding to marriage license applications, Theresa Santai-Gaffney, filed a motion before Judge Jones to allow her to intervene in the case in her official capacity. She wanted the court to stay its decision in Whitewood v. Wolf and to allow her appeal it.[17] Judge Jones denied the motion on June 18, lamenting that a private citizen would use her public office to make a "wholly disingenuous" intervention.[18]

Santai-Gaffney immediately appealed the denial of her intervention to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and asked it to stay the lower court's ruling. She argued that the Supreme Court's order in Herbert v. Kitchen, 134 S.Ct. 893 (2014), is precedent for a stay, that she is likely to succeed on the merits, that sexual orientation is not a suspect class, and that the public interest is served by preventing same-sex marriage.[19] The Third Circuit immediately ordered the case sent to a panel to determine if summary action was warranted.[20]

Court of Appeals dismissal[edit]

On July 3, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit summarily affirmed Judge Jones' dismissal of the Santai-Gaffney's motion to intervene in Whitewood and ordered her appeal dismissed. U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz, in a two-sentence order, said such dismissal was warranted "[f]or essentially the reasons set forth in the Opinion of the District Court." Santai-Gaffney's lawyer then said "Our plan is to file something with the U.S. Supreme Court... The people of Pennsylvania deserve to have adequate review of this law."[21][22]

U.S. Supreme Court action[edit]

After the Third Circuit ruling, Santai-Gaffney applied for a stay of judgment from U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Circuit Justice for the Third Circuit, docketed sub nom. Santai-Gaffney v. Whitewood, No. 14A19 (July 7, 2014). In her application, the clerk attempted to overcome not only the questions of her interest in intervening and standing to appeal, but that she, as a public official, is suffering irreparable harm. Supreme Court rules also require it probable that four Justices grant certiorari on any question presented in order for a stay to be granted. The counsel of record in clerk Santai-Gaffney's litigation, as listed in court filings, is the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization.[23] On July 9, Justice Alito denied the clerk's application for a stay,[24] referencing National Organization for Marriage v. Geiger.[25]

Petition for rehearing[edit]

On July 17, 2014, Santai-Gaffney filed a petition in the Third Circuit to rehear her motion to intervene, or to rehear it en banc. With no judge that concurred in denying the original motion asking for rehearing, and all active judges in the circuit voting against, on August 4, 2014, the petition for rehearing was denied.[26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102, as amended in 1996, defined marriage as a "civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife."
    Furthermore, 23 Pa. C.S. § 1704 was added and read: "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."


  1. ^ "A.C.L.U. Lawsuit Aims to Overturn Pennsylvania's Ban on Gay Marriage". New York Times. July 9, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ Lord, Rich (July 10, 2013). "Judge named to handle case trying to legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  3. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (July 11, 2013). "Pa. attorney general says she won’t defend state's gay marriage ban". Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Lindstrom, Natasha (July 30, 2013). "Corbett to defend Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban". Herald-Standard (Uniontown). Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  5. ^ Lord, Rich (November 1, 2013). "Corbett dropped in Pennsylvania gay marriage lawsuit". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ Warden, Amy (November 17, 2013). "Judge clears way for trial on Pa. gay marriage ban". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Jones, U.S. District Judge (December 17, 2013). "Memorandum and Order (denying interlocutory appeal), Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 1:13-cv1861". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ ACLU of Pennsylvania (April 21, 2014). "Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 13-CV-1861-JEJ". U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania, via ACLU.org. Retrieved April 25, 2014. 
  10. ^ Reuters (May 20, 2014). "Federal judge strikes down gay marriage ban in Pennsylvania". Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  11. ^ Jones, U.S. District Judge (May 20, 2014), "Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 1:13-cv1861 (See pp. 40-41)", U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania 
  12. ^ Fox News (May 20, 2014). "Pa. same-sex couples rush to get marriage licenses after judge overturns marriage ban". Retrieved May 21, 2014. 
  13. ^ Pink News (May 25, 2014). "US: Couples begin to marry in Pennsylvania as same-sex marriage ruling comes into effect". 
  14. ^ Riely, Kaitlynn (May 21, 2014). "Allegheny County marries its first same-sex couple amid smiles, tears". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  15. ^ Madej, Patricia (May 23, 2014). "Wedding bells ring at art museum steps for same-sex couple". Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Pennsylvania governor: I won't appeal court's gay marriage ruling". The Guardian. Associated Press. May 21, 2014. 
  17. ^ Conrad, Jeffery (Attorney for Proposed Intervenor) (June 6, 2014). "Motion for Intervention, Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 1:13-CV-1861". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (via scribd.com). Retrieved June 9, 2014. 
  18. ^ John E. Jones III (June 18, 2014). "Memorandum and order, Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 1:13-CV-1861". Court. U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Retrieved June 18, 2014. 
  19. ^ Dalton, J. Caleb (Attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom) (June 18, 2014). "Proposed Intervenor-Defendant-Appellant Theresa Santai-Gaffney's Motion for Stay of Injunction Pending Appeal, Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 14-3048". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Scribd.com). PACER Document 3111654843. 
  20. ^ Waldron, Marcia (Clerk of the Court) (June 18, 2014). "Order (for Determination of Summary Action), Whitewood v. Secretary Pa. Dept. of Health, No. 14-3048". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Scribd.com). PACER Document 3111654697. 
  21. ^ Fuentes, Jordan, and Shwartz, U.S. Circuit Judges (July 3, 2014). "Order, Whitewood v. Secretary Pa. Dep't of Health, No. 14-3048". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (PACER Document 3111670016). 
  22. ^ Marchiano, Amy (July 5, 2014). "County official vows appeal after same-sex marriage setback". The Standard Speaker (Hazelton, PA). 
  23. ^ Babione, Byron J. (Attorney for Petitioner) (July 3, 2014). "Application to Stay Judgment Pending Appeal, Santai-Gaffney v. Whitewood, No. 14A19". U.S. Supreme Court. 
  24. ^ Associated Press (July 9, 2014). "Justice Alito denies clerk’s bid to halt same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania". LBGTQ Nation.com. 
  25. ^ Supreme Court of the United States: No. 14A19, Santai-Gaffney v. Whitewood, accessed July 10, 2014
  26. ^ Middleton, Josh (July 18, 2014). "Theresa Santai-Gaffney Strikes Again, Filing an 'En Banc' Motion With the Third Circuit". Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved July 24, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Sur Petition for Rehearing Whitewood v. Secretary Pa. Dep't of Health, No. 14-3048". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (PACER Document 3111697838). Scribd.com. August 4, 2014.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)

External links[edit]