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Judge Set June Trial for Challenge to Pa. Gay Marriage Ban

by Peter Jackson
Friday Nov 22, 2013
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The trial of a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s gay-marriage ban will be held in June, a federal judge said Friday.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III told lawyers he would allow two weeks for the trial. Jones said he would set a specific date and a timetable for pretrial discovery and depositions soon. He rejected as unnecessary a defense request to delay the trial until August.

"I’m an optimist by nature," the judge told lawyers for both sides at the conclusion of an hourlong meeting.

The federal lawsuit is the first of at least six state and federal court suits challenging aspects of the 17-year-old Pennsylvania law. Civil rights lawyers filed it in July on behalf of plaintiffs who include a widow, 11 couples and one couple’s two teenage daughters.

Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that bars same-sex marriage. Nationally, Illinois this week joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing it.

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who took office in January, has refused to defend the law in court, saying it violates the state and federal constitutions.

Friday’s meeting came a week after Jones denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the two major defendants - the secretaries of the state departments of Health and Revenue.

William Lamb, a former state Supreme Court justice who heads the private legal team that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett hired to defend the state officials, said he plans to appeal Jones’ ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by next week.

The defendants’ motion cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision to argue that federal courts lack jurisdiction over state marriage laws. But Jones said that decision has been eroded by the court’s subsequent rulings on constitutional challenges based on sex or sexual identity.

"The jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972," Jones said in his opinion.

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