ACLU trial to be held in June


The first lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania to challenge the state’s ban on same-sex marriage will get its big day in court this summer.

In a conference meeting Friday in Harrisburg with the parties involved in Whitewood v. Wolf, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III set trial for June.

The trial will last up to two weeks. The judge is expected to identify a specific date in June in the coming months. The defense had asked that the trial be delayed until August, but the judge rejected that request.

When the schedule is released, Jones will also set deadlines for the discovery period, during which parties will take depositions, identify expert witnesses and prepare expert reports. The trial will take place in Harrisburg.

The suit was filed July 9 by 20 same-sex couples, two children of same-sex parents and one widow, who contend that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates federal due-process and equal-protection constitutional guarantees. One more couple was brought on as plaintiffs last month.

Earlier this month, Jones released original plaintiffs Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Gov. Tom Corbett from the case; Kane had declined to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, while Corbett argued that the secretary of his Department of Health, which oversees marriage records, should be the primary defendant. Also brought on as a defendant was the state’s secretary of the Department of Revenue.

Additional defendants include the registers of wills in Washington and Bucks counties.

On Nov. 7, Jones rejected defendants’ requests for a dismissal of the case. The defendants had argued that marriage has long been a state issue, but Jones said the “sea change” in the nation’s marriage laws in the past few decades merits the case moving forward.

The plaintiffs’ case is being handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the national ACLU, as well as firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller.

In addition to the scheduling decisions made last Friday, attorney Mark Aronchick told PGN that the conference included discussions of another interesting element of the case.

“We’re working on an arrangement where the Bucks County Register of Wills will agree to be bound by the ultimate court order that comes down, and to not contest it any further, which I think is significant,” Aronchick said. “The one who filed the most aggressive brief is now talking to us about abiding by whatever the outcome is and not fighting it anymore. Which seems to be the way a lot of public officials are going these days.”

There are at least five other pending legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s 1996 law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, all of which were filed after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a key provision of the federal ban on same-sex marriage.