In a bellwether case for states trying to preserve gay-marriage bans in a fast-shifting landscape, Pennsylvania officials are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision this summer and the Obama administration’s approach should not undercut the state’s ability to enforce its own marriage laws.
State officials said in a legal brief filed this week that Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and the state’s health secretary should be dropped as defendants in a federal case filed in July by nearly two dozen state residents over the gay-marriage ban, arguing that state officials are immune to being sued in federal court without their consent.
Pennsylvania is one of 37 states where gay remains illegal, but it has been the target of multiple legal challenges to its statute as the only state in the Northeast that doesn’t allow either gay marriage or same-sex civil unions. Gay-marriage activists have filed federal lawsuits in states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, believing federal judges would be more sympathetic to gay marriage and more willing to overturn state prohibitions.RELATED: Chris Christie Appeals Gay Marriage Ruling To Higher Court
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in June on did not find a constitutional right to same-sex nuptials and did not mandate that individual states must allow or recognize same-sex marriages, attorney William H. Lamb argued on behalf of Mr. Corbett and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Michael Wolf. Mr. Lamb asked that all claims against Mr. Corbett and Mr. Wolf be dismissed.
All parties in the lawsuit, known as Whitewood v. Corbett, are scheduled to meet Wednesday with U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to discuss the case.
Pennsylvania is one of 19 states where gay-rights activists are suing to legalize same-sex marriage. Battles are underway in states with voter-passed constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage, such as Arkansas and Virginia, as well as states that outlaw gay marriage only by statute, such as Illinois and West Virginia.
Many lawsuits were filed this summer after the Supreme Court struck down the section of the 1996 federal Defense of (DOMA) that said only marriages of one man and one woman could be recognized by the federal government.
In Pennsylvania, Mr. Corbett and Mr. Wolf are responding to a lawsuit filed by 10 gay couples, two children and a lesbian widow who are seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s state amendment in favor of traditional marriage, also enacted in 1996.