May 21--Fair-minded Pennsylvanians have reason to celebrate: A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Pennsylvania's gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional. Quickly, county officials opened their doors to same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. And even Republican Gov. Tom Corbett threw in the towel, announcing he would not appeal.
Pennsylvania follows 17 other states in allowing same-sex marriage, a situation that few could have conceived even a decade ago. This thorny issue has divided the nation since the 1970s, when gays first began challenging their thwarted attempts to be wed. In the beginning, their court challenges did more to galvanize the opposition to gay marriage than to support it. In 1996, Congress overwhelmingly passed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and legislatures in many states, including Pennsylvania, did the same.
But a gradual yet steady change in public attitude was occurring, too. In recent years, courts in one state after another have struck down bans on same-sex marriage. In 2013, Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she would not support the state's gay-marriage ban. Now, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III's ruling makes Pennsylvania the 18th state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The speed of the collapse of once adamant, and nearly universal, opposition to same sex marriage is breathtaking.
In Monroe County, Clerk of Orphans' Court George Warden sensibly got out in front of the parade once Jones issued the opinion. Warden reminded county citizens that "We are a Nation and a Commonwealth of Laws and we must follow the law as it is expressed in Judge Jones' ruling." Nearly a day ahead of the governor's concession, Warden stressed that his office would follow the ruling despite the possibility, then, that the state might end up seeking an emergency stay while they appealed the ruling.
There are plenty of people who remain hostile toward gays, and others who aren't hostile, but maintain the belief that marriage is a sacrament that should be reserved strictly for heterosexual couples. But champions of same-sex marriage have compelling arguments: That same-sex couples deserve the same rights under the law as other minorities, from tax advantages for married couples to insurance and death benefits. That unmarried same-sex couples do not enjoy the same privileges as legally married spouses, and that marriage affords children of such couples a legal and psychological stability.
Even social conservatives who disapprove of homosexuality or the "gay lifestyle" should admit that there's something encouraging about same-sex couples' embrace of a popular and honored institution. After all, nearly every social scientist holds up marriage as a stabilizing element in human society. Expanding the scope of that institution is one more good reason to celebrate.
Every Pennsylvanian should join gay couples in rejoicing that marriage law no longer discriminates by gender and that loving same-sex couples will legally share the same protections and benefits marriage affords to heterosexual wedded couples. Ultimately, extending the right to marry to same-sex couples lives up to this nation's founding principles of justice and equality for all.
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