Just short of a year following the US Supreme Court decision that the federal statute, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was unconstitutional, Pennsylvania has followed suit in recognizing its own marriage laws are also unconstitutional. In a decision rendered May 20, 2014, the Honorable John E. Jones, III, sitting for the US District Court in the Middle District on the case of Whitewood v. Michael Wolf, ruled that two of Pennsylvania’s laws regarding marriage were unconstitutional on the basis that they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth amendment. 23 Pa. C.S. 1102, limiting marriage to heterosexuals, and 23 Pa C.S. 1704, prohibiting recognition of homosexual marriages even where the couples were legally married elsewhere, are no longer enforceable.
The case of Whitewood v. Michael Wolf was filed last July by 11 homosexual couples, five of which were unmarried and hoping to be married in Pennsylvania, and six couples who were legally married elsewhere but reside in Pennsylvania. The due process clause guarantees that all citizens shall have certain fundamental rights and the court held the right to marry the person of your choice is a fundamental right. The equal protection clause prohibits a state from denying a person in its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws. The Plaintiffs were successful in arguing for a heightened level of scrutiny to be applied as the classification on the basis of sexual orientation was quasi-suspect. Accordingly, Defendants were left with the burden to demonstrate an “exceedingly persuasive justification” as to how the statute prohibiting homosexual marriage served an important government objective. The court found the Defendants were unable to carry that burden. As the closing remark in the opinion by Judge Jones states: “We are a better people that what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”