The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit today in Pennsylvania on behalf of 23 residents of the state who are seeking marriage equality. The lawsuit is the latest to be filed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decisions in favor of same-sex marriage in June.
The group of plaintiffs, which includes 10 couples, two minor children of those couples, and one widow who recently lost her partner of 29 years, argue Pennsylvania’s own Defense of Marriage Act violates both the fundamental right to marry and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
"We only want what every married couple wants — to express our love and commitment in front of friends and family, and the security and protections that only marriage provides," said plaintiff Deb Whitewood, who has been with her spouse, Susan, for 22 years. "Our life is built around our relationship and the family we have made."
The Whitewoods are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The couple first demonstrated their commitment to one another in a ceremony in 1993, and again in 2001 when they entered into a civil union in Vermont. But Pennsylvania law still fails to legally recognize their relationship, depriving the couple and their family of the security and dignity of a marriage.
"As the cradle of American liberty, it is shameful that Pennsylvania denies some families the dignity and respect that can only come with marriage," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "It's wrong that the state where these couples live, work, and raise families treats them as second-class couples."
Additional Pennsylvania plaintiffs Edwin Hill and David Palmer from Bangor, Pa., Helena Miller and Dara Raspberry from Philadelphia, Heather and Kath Poehler from Downingtown, Pa., and Marla Cattermole and Julia Lobur, from Harrisburg, Pa. are already married, having wed in other states, but are treated as legal strangers in their home state.
Plaintiff Maureen Hennessey of Philadelphia is a widow who lost her spouse after 29 years together. Because her spouse was a woman, their marriage is not recognized by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and she is not provided the protections afforded to widows under state law.
The ACLU also announced today that it will amend an existing adoption lawsuit in North Carolina, and will file a marriage lawsuit in Virginia as co-counsel with the ACLU of Virginia and Lambda Legal in the coming weeks.
"In the past few years, we have seen an astonishing and welcome shift toward Americans embracing the idea that married same-sex couples and those who wish to marry should not be regarded as less than any other family," said Leslie Cooper of the ACLU's LGBT Project. "Whether it's through litigation, through the legislature, or at the ballot box, we will continue to work to broaden the number of states where same-sex couples can marry."