The battle over same-sex marriage rights in Pennsylvania has been simmering since last summer when concurrent litigation was initiated in a few different judicial venues. One case was filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and involves as plaintiffs eleven couples, two minor children, and a widow to a long-term partner. Having had the winter to conduct discovery, marshal together their legal arguments, and prepare for the final phase of litigation, both sides are coming out aggressively in search of a determination by the court before the June 2014 trial date.
Recently, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment which prompted a reply and cross-motion for judgment from the Commonwealth. In essence, the Commonwealth is asking the judge to rule in their favor on the basis that legislature has the constitutional right to define marriage as it is articulated in Pennsylvania’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act.
While the plaintiffs seek to invalidate Pa.DOMA on the basis that it violates their due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Commonwealth points to the legislative intent as demonstrating a legitimate state interest. The plaintiffs hope to use the momentum created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, et al. which upheld the invalidation of the operative portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act; the Commonwealth is actually citing that case as proof that states have the right to legislatively define marriage as they deem fit.
To mix metaphors, each side’s attempt to win through summary judgment is analogous to throwing an early knock-out punch rather than go through the siege warfare of trial. If the judge decides to rule on the motions, a decision can be made after May 12th. Based on the article written by Dan Packel for Law360.com, the motions seem to make it likely the June trial date will be moved to accommodate the briefing and argument schedule for summary judgment.
A determination adverse to the plaintiffs in this case would not eliminate the chance for marriage equality in Pennsylvania; the other cases filed would keep that opportunity open. However, it would be a serious set-back and carefully considered by pending litigation in Pennsylvania and nationally. Based on the outcomes of similar litigation in other states, upholding Pennsylvania’s DOMA and continuing to ban same-sex marriage would be appear be run contrary to prevailing national decisions.
Aaron Weems is an attorney and editor of the Pennsylvania Family Law Blog. Aaron is a resident of Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, Pennsylvania office and practices throughout the greater Philadelphia region. Aaron can be reached at 610-397-7989; firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @AaronWeemsAtty