Editorial: Overdue ruling on marriage equality encourages tolerance in Pa

A federal judge in Harrisburg historically struck down the law barring same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, launching the state away from prejudice and towards equality.  

Provided that Governor Tom Corbett does not appeal the decision, same-sex couples in Pennsylvania may now seek marriage, and couples that have already married out of state will now have their marriages recognized in the commonwealth.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, presided over the ruling. 

“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” Jones said in his opinion

Trashing these legal limits on marriage was long overdue — Pennsylvania was the last state in the Northeast to recognize marriage equality and 57 percent of the state’s voters supported doing so long before this landmark ruling, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in February. It’s incredibly relieving to see the laws tossed into the “ash heap of history.”

According to Jones, the laws that were struck down violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which address the fundamental rights of American citizens and the protections of these rights.

In other words, the laws infringed upon citizens’ right to freely marry whomever they choose.

Depending on Governor Corbett’s response, the implications of the ruling will be huge for the LGBTQ community. The elimination of the legal distinction of marriage as being solely between a man and a woman will provide a more open atmosphere in which same-sex couples can feel accepted in their home state of Pennsylvania.

“If Governor Corbett decides to follow other states like Oregon in adopting marriage equality and forgoes an appeal, I believe that this will send a very strong message to citizens that Pennsylvania prioritizes equality for all,” Dr. Helma de Vries-Jordan, assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, said in an email. She is currently working on a book focusing on the marriage equality movement and LGBTQ activism.

Equality should be the primary goal. Every Pennsylvania citizen should feel that the law respects him or her equally, regardless of race, gender or sexual identity. Now that the restrictions have been removed in court, our state has taken the first step in fully promoting this idea towards the LGBTQ community — as long as Governor Corbett does not attempt to appeal it.

Allie McCarthy, president of Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance, further enforced this sentiment.

“It’s hard to feel that being gay is OK when it’s illegal to marry someone,” she said, referring to the former restrictions. “But now my friend is telling me that she wants to just ‘kiss someone on the street.’”

The ruling is giving the members of the LGBTQ community a reason to be proud of who they are, as opposed to the former laws that prohibited civil unions.

But the ruling is hopefully just the beginning of beneficial changes in scenery for the LGBTQ community.

“This has the potential to lay the groundwork for future legislation promoting equality, offering other protections for the LGBT community, for example, in the workplace and healthcare access,” de Vries-Jordan said.

For now, it’s just nice to know that progress is, indeed, possible. In the meantime, McCarthy and her friends will be basking in this momentous occasion.

“It’s just one of those crazy days where you can feel change finally coming and we are all really excited about it,” she said.