Pennsylvania Gay Couples Getting Married…Finally

Same sex couples across the Commonwealth began getting marriage licenses following Judge John Jones III ruling yesterday throwing out the state’s marriage ban as unconstitutional.  I was at the Berks County Services Center this morning as a couple from Morgantown arrived promptly at 8AM for their license.  Unwilling to state their names or go on the record because one of the female couple is unemployed and seeking work, they were joyous that after eight years together they can make their relationship legal and equal in the eyes of the law.  One of the women said she has serious health issues and being able to provide for her health, their assets and property in case of the worst case happening is a comfort.  Being legally married means her soon to be wife cannot be denied hospital visitation  and is ensured of survivor rights and inheritance.

There are 1,039 federal rights which come with marriage, everything from being able to file joint tax returns to eligibility for Social Security survivor benefits.  These have been denied to gay couples in Pennsylvania until yesterday.

Kurt German and Todd Gimbi were the second couple to arrive this morning.  Both work in retail and heard the news from co-workers.  They have been together for 25 years after meeting at an under 21 club in Wilkes-Barre.  Todd said they fell in love at first sight and were ecstatic at being able to marry.  He is originally from Hazleton and German from Wilkes-Barre.  Both now live ad work in Reading.

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Todd Gimbi (left) and Kurt German hold their newly received marriage license.

PA Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

I can now legally marry in Pennsylvania.  Of course that would require having a partner but, theoretically, I now have equal marriage rights with straight Pennsylvanians thanks to Federal Judge John Jones.  The state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriages was declared a violation of the U.S. constitution’s Equal Protection clause and struck down.  The ACLU of PA led this fight and must be congratulated.

After the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling I predicted it would cause a cascade of individual state rulings and that’s exactly what has been happening.  No Federal judge can ignore the findings of that case and uphold these discriminatory laws.  Is there any news out of Butler County yet about Rep. Daryl Metcalf’s head exploding?

Pending a stay on appeal marriages should begin immediately and all those couples in the state who have wed elsewhere now have those marriages recognized under Pennsylvania law.  The case essentially wasn’t defended and Judge Jones granted a summary judgement based on the case briefs filed in his court.  Also, recall that this is a Republican Federal Judge.  Because there was no essential legal case made defending the old law the likelihood of a stay pending appeal is small.

It is a great day for equality in the Keystone State.

Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature issued this statement:

“I join millions of Pennsylvanians today in supporting the federal court’s decision,” Sims said. “When Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery, and I introduced the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act last fall, we recognized that numerous legal challenges throughout the Commonwealth had the potential to bring marriage equality much faster to the state, while our legislators sat on the sidelines. Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love.”

“I’m thankful for all of the hard work that has gotten us to this point. I’m proud to live in a state where I am one step closer to being an equal citizen. And I am empowered to ensure that we continue the effort to bring equality in the form of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law to the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Erin Molchany issued this:

“Today is a great day for equality.”

“Today’s decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional ban on marriage is a celebration of  human dignity and another step toward greater equality for all. Our friends and neighbors should not be denied basic rights because of who they love, and this decision is a great step forward for our commonwealth.”

Same Sex Widow Files Suit For Discrimination

A lesbian widow has filed suit against the Commonwealth for discrimination in the state’s inheritance law.  Barbara Baus wed her partner Catherine Burgi-Rios in Connecticut and then filed for spousal coverage when her partner died.  Pennsylvania refused to recognize their legal marriage and assessed her the same rate as for strangers.  The constitution requires all states to recognize other state’s laws but in this case Pennsylvania is refusing to recognize Connecticut’s marriage equality law.

From the law firm representing Baus:

Widow files suit seeking equal tax treatment for same-sex marriages

Easton, PA – A widow residing in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit seeking equal treatment

under Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax law. Barbara Baus and Catherine (“Cathy”) Burgi-Rios resided

together for more than 15 years when they married on April 29, 2011 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Cathy died on September 21, 2012 at the age of 55, as a result of complications from her year-long

battle with leukemia.

Barbara and Cathy had a church wedding in 1999 and supported each other emotionally and

financially. They jointly owned a home, cars and bank accounts. Cathy named Barbara as her executor

and sole beneficiary of all of her assets in her Will. Barbara filed the required Inheritance Tax Return

with the Register of Wills of Northampton County, noting her status as Cathy’s spouse. She claimed the

spousal rate for Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax, which is zero. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue

responded by stating her marriage is “not valid in Pennsylvania” and assessed taxes due under the rate

that applies to legal strangers, which is 15%, the highest rate of inheritance tax charged in Pennsylvania.

Barbara is challenging the taxes that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is seeking to

collect through a Petition filed on Friday with the Orphan’s Court of Northampton County by her

attorneys Benjamin Jerner and Tiffany Palmer at Jerner & Palmer, P.C., a law firm focusing its practice

on LGBT estate planning, estate administration and family law. Co-counsel for Barbara are Stanley A.

Pelli of Alexander & Pelli, LLC and Leonore F. Carpenter, Assistant Professor at Temple University

Beasley School of Law.

Barbara’s Petition claims that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s determination that it

will not recognize her marriage and apply the tax rate for spouses violates both the Pennsylvania and the

United States Constitutions. Specifically, Barbara’s suit raises the unique issue that Pennsylvania’s

Defendant of Marriage Act violates the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which

states that all taxes in Pennsylvania must be assessed upon the same classes in a uniform fashion. “This

case is a clear example of how Pennsylvania’s DOMA injures – in a very real way – same-sex couples

who have valid marriages,” said Benjamin Jerner, of Jerner & Palmer, P.C., one of Barbara’s attorneys.

“The Pennsylvania Constitution does not permit the Commonwealth to tax same-sex married couples

and opposite-sex married couples differently for inheritance tax,” said Tiffany Palmer, another attorney

for Barbara.

“I just want my marriage to be respected like any other marriage. It is hard enough to cope with

the loss of a spouse, but to have my marriage treated with such disregard is heartbreaking,” said Barbara.

“I know standing up for our equal rights is what Cathy would have wanted me to do.”

Corbett Compares Gay Marriage to Incest

State Reps Brian Sims and Steve McCarter introduced a marriage equality bill yesterday and today Gov. gasbag illustrated why he’s so stupid:  he compared same sex marriage with incest in an interview.  We’ve known for three years what a moron this Governor is and he continues putting his foot in his mouth whenever he speaks but this is absolutely ridiculous.  Comparing two adults who live one another, want to commit to each other for life and gain the same rights and benefits as straight couples is NOT the same as screwing your daughter or cousin.

Perhaps Corbett’s parents engaged in some familial incest resulting in an idiot offspring.  There has to be some logical reason Gov. “Just Close Your Eyes” is so stupid and continues saying stupid things in public.

Sims responded by reminding voters this is why Corbett needs to be defeated in 2014.  McCarter said:

“I condemn Gov. Corbett’s comments for their hatefulness and ignorance.  The issue of marriage equality is not a joke, and the governor’s words only further demonstrate that he is out of touch with the majority of Pennsylvanians.”

Gubernatorial candidates Katie McGinty and Ed Pawlowski had these statements to say (respectively):

“Tom Corbett owes an apology to the people of Pennsylvania. He has a history of making demeaning and insulting remarks towards Pennsylvanians of all walks of life, but even for Tom Corbett today’s remark is shockingly offensive. It’s more proof we need a new governor who respects every Pennsylvanian.”

There is no analogy that is appropriate for gay marriage except to say that love is love and civil rights for one are civil rights for all.  That is why I have signed on for Mayors For Marriage Equality.”

“The politics of division and social injustice can no longer be tolerated in Pennsylvania or in this country.  Again, I’ll repeat, that only by working together, no matter what your ethnic or religious background, or sexual preference, can we move Pennsylvania forward.”

Judge Halts MontCo Marriage Licenses

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini put a halt today to D. Bruce Hanes, Montgomery County Register of Wills, actions in granting marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Following the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision Hanes determined that Pennsylvania’s DOMA law is invalid and began pursuing a policy of marriage equality.  Gay and lesbian couples from across the Commonwealth flocked to Norristown to get legal permission to wed.  174 couples did so.

Pelligrini said that Hanes didn’t have the authority to determine, on his own, that the law was unconstitutional and invalidated all of the same sex licenses issued by Montgomery County.  I’m assuming the case will be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  If they decide the case solely on these grounds it isn’t likely to be overturned.  If they consider the case in light of the constitutionality of DOMA it should get overturned.

Same Sex Marriage Rolling Through New Mexico

Led by Dona Ana County in conservative southern New Mexico, same sex marriage licenses are spreading like a wildfire through this state.  Las Cruces and the rest of Dona Ana County issued over 200 licenses in about a week.  New mexico’s marriage laws are not gender specific and the state constitution outlaws any discrimination based on gender so county clerks have begun treating same sex couples the same as straight ones.  Judges in several counties have ordered clerks to issue the marriage licenses and now six counties have joined in the effort including Santa Fe, Bernolillo and now Los Alamos (soon to be the 7th).

The New Mexico County Clerks Association is going to court to clarify the law statewide and Republican State House members have sued to stop the licenses.  Whether or not they have legal standing could be an issue.

Meanwhile back in Pennsylvania the legal fight to halt Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes gets under way Wednesday in Commonwealth Court.

MontCo Rallies For Bruce Hanes and Marriage Equality

As of closing today Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes has given out 78 marriage licenses to same sex couples and 21 of them have wed.  Sixteen couples applied today alone and last week saw one couple drive from Pittsburgh and another couple from Portland, Maine get a license to marry here.  Many of these couples seem to be from Southeastern Pennsylvania but some are taking advantage of this window to drive from different corners of the Commonwealth to Norristown.  

Today those LGBT and straight allies of Hanes held a rally in frnt of the Montgomery County courthouse to show their appreciation.  Included were three candidates for Congress in the 13th CD.  Also speaking were several House members from Harrisburg:  Mark Cohen, Brendan Boyle, Matt Bradford and Madelein Dean.

Before the event began a couple came by on their way in to get their marriage license and joined the rally.  Lisa Dow Summey and Renee Juliano even got to speak and showed off their newly minted marriage license.  They have three children who now will be able to have more secure futures because their Moms will be legally married and entitled to more than a thousand rights denied them until now.

Sen. Leach:

Dean:

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Boyle:

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Sen. Leach is hugged by a couple he personally married:

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This adorable little boy has a question:

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Summey and Juliano:

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Kane Gets Blowback on DOMA Decision

Attorney General Kathleen Kane is getting blowback this week on two separate issues.  First is her shameless wrangling to evict Judge Barry Feudale from his responsibilities overseeing central PA grand juries.  The second is over her decision not to defend the state’s Defense of marriage law in a suit filed by the ACLU.  Right wing ideologues are scorching her for this claiming she must because it is her duty to uphold the law, in this case, a law which has been declared unconstitutional on the federal level.

How can a law which has been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court be defended on a state level?  It is no longer lawful and therefore indefensible.  Why is it these idiots, blinded by their bigotry, cannot understand that she is defending the law of the land by not defending this state one in court?

Kane Won’t Defend Pennsylvania Marriage Ban

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced yesterday her office will not defend the state’s DOMA law in a legal action entered into federal court by the ACLU of PA on behalf of two dozen same sex couples.  The Commonwealth passed the law limiting rights and we just saw the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the federal law as unconstitutional.  If the federal law is unconstitutional because its violates couple’s rights then each state law is also unconstitutional.  Unfortunately they will need to be litigated on a state by state basis.  Ours is the first such challenge to be filed nationally.

I called for such action the day the SCOTUS decision was issued, challenging my peers in committed relationships to seek marriage licenses then hire civil rights counsel to challenge the law.  This is what the ACLU is doing.  There’s no way, following the SCOTUS decision, that a Judge can go against that momentous, landmark decision and uphold these discriminatory laws.

Meanwhile State Reps Brian Sims and Steve McCarter  have co-sponsored a marriage equality bill in Harrisburg.  Sims is the first openly gay person elected to that body in Pennsylvania.  McCarter issued this statement yesterday following the Kane announcement:

I’m extremely proud of Attorney General Kane for doing what is best for Pennsylvanians and agreeing that we must not stand in the way of progress and true marriage equality for all,” McCarter said. “The law banning gay marriage is obsolete and frankly, a violation of the rights of thousands of LGBT citizens.

“It’s the right thing to do and is a fundamental civil rights issue,” McCarter said.

The lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban was filed in federal court on Tuesday by two dozen Pennsylvania residents seeking to force Pennsylvania to allow them to marry or recognize their same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not allow either gay marriage or civil unions, which only acts as a detriment to our state,” McCarter said. “I’m honored to be working with Representative Brian Sims to gather support in the legislature for a bill that would legalize gay marriage and finally bring true marriage equality to all Pennsylvanians.”

 

ACLU, Couples Seek to Overturn Marriage Ban

The Pennsylvania ACLU is suing to overturn the state’s ban on same sex marriage in an action representing four couples denied equality under the law.  As I predicted after the SCOTUS decision on DOMA there is now legal precedent that denial of equal justice under law is unconstitutional and a gateway towards overturning state marriage bans.

If DOMA is unconstitutional then so is Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage.  This lawsuit will take this case to federal court where the Supreme Court decision will be the basis of the decision.  The Court made very clear that gay couples cannot be denied the same benefits provided heterosexual couples who are allowed to marry and given rights denied under the law to LGBT couples.  The law of the land now says this is illegal.