Judge Denies Commonwealth’s Bid

Judge Denies Commonwealth’s Bid to Dismiss First Freedom to Marry Lawsuit

CONTACT:  Sara Mullen, ACLU of Pennsylvania, 215-592-1513 x122, smullen@aclupa.org or Shawn Jain, ACLU, 202-715-0833,  sjain@dcaclu.org

HARRISBURG, PA – A federal judge today denied the commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s request to dismiss the first lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples.  The case, Whitewood v. Wolf, was filed July 9, 2013, by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, and University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer. 

In his ruling, Judge John E. Jones III rejected arguments from the commonwealth and Donald Petrille, Jr., the Register of Wills for Bucks County, that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed as a matter of law because of a 1972 decision holding that a gay couple was not entitled to a marriage license.   

Judge Jones’ opinion noted that the law at issue in this case has “undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change” in the past four decades.

“We are delighted that our clients will have their day in court.  These couples are married in every sense of the word, except one – under Pennsylvania law. We are simply asking for the state to recognize their love and commitment,” said Mark Aronchick of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.

The next step in the case will be a case management conference, open to the public, on Friday, November 22 at 10 a.m. in Courtroom #2 of the federal courthouse in Harrisburg. At the conference a schedule will be set for discovery and trial.

On November 7, 2013, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that changed the commonwealth officials named as defendants and added an additional plaintiff couple, Sandy Ferlanie and Christine Donato of Swarthmore, who wish to wed in Pennsylvania.

Lawyers involved in the case include Vic Walczak, Mary Catherine Roper, and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; James Esseks and Leslie Cooper of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project; Mark A. Aronchick, John S. Stapleton, Helen Casale, Dylan J. Steinberg, and Rebecca S. Melley of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Full information about the case, including a copy of today’s ruling, profiles of the plaintiffs and a video of plaintiff Maureen Hennessey and her late spouse, can be found at: www.aclupa.org/whitewood