Lehigh Valley couple, ACLU to challenge Pa. law banning gay marriage

ACLU challenges PA gay marriage ban

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Lehigh Valley couple is suing, along with the ACLU, to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. It's the first lawsuit filed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act two weeks ago.

That ruling struck down the federal ban on homosexual marriages, but did not force individual states like Pennsylvania to recognize them.

One of the plaintiffs is Ed Hill of Bangor, Northampton Co. Hill waited 25 years to propose to the love of his life.

"I had to get on my knee and beg him to marry me!", he said.

But after Hill and his husband, David Palmer, married in Maine, the honeymoon was short-lived.

"We got married in May, on May 10, and we come home, and we're not married," said Hill.

They and nine other couples filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday morning, seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's ban on homosexual marriage. That state law passed overwhelmingly in 1996.

"Despite being in loving and committed relationships, Pennsylvania treats them as second-class citizens," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU.

The suit comes just two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court's DOMA decision.

"The Supreme Court said that the federal government's refusal to recognize marriages of the same-sex couples demeans them, injures them, and injures their children," said Mark Aronchick, an attorney who filed the lawsuit. "If that is true for the federal government, Pennsylvania's law is no less harmful."

Conservative Christian groups are denouncing the lawsuit.

"When government recognizes marriage, it protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and to be responsible for the children they bear," said Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute. "A mom and a dad play vital and irreplaceable roles in the lives of children."

Some clergy worry about redefining a centuries-old institution.

"Marriage is defined very clearly as between a man and a woman," said Marilyn Hartman with El Shaddai Ministries in Bethlehem. "The ALCU may have missed the boat. They should have gone for protection -- equal protection under the law."

But the couples who are suing, many of whom have children, said they deserve the same title of marriage as their heterosexual counterparts.

"The government shouldn't be able to tell us who we are and who we are not allowed to marry," said Deb Whitewood, a plaintiff from suburban Pittsburgh. "After 22 years together, we feel that that's a decision that we should be able to make ourselves."

Palmer and Hill said they want equal protection under the law.

"When one of us passes away, 15 percent of half of our assets are taxed," said Palmer. "It's the highest tax that anyone pays in this state."

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who opposes gay marriage and is a defendant in the case, told WHTM-TV in Harrisburg that he doesn't expect the lawsuit to go far.

"Clearly the Supreme Court of the United States said it's up to states to decide what to do," said Corbett, "so a lawsuit to overturn what is a law in Pennsylvania, I don't think it will carry much weight."

But public opinion is increasingly moving toward leaglized same-sex marriage. Accroding to a recent Franklin and Marshall College poll, 52 percent of Pennsylvanians support legal same-sex marriage. That's a 19 percent jump since 2006.
"The support for freedom to marry is growing at an astonishing pace," said Leslie Cooper with the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

The state Attorney General's office said it is reviewing the case. The Catholic Diocese of Allentown, which has opposed gay marriage, declined to comment, calling the issue a court issue.

This case may not be heard for another year or two, and both sides agree that no matter who wins, it will likely get appealed.

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