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ACLU Challenges Pennsylvania’s Gay Marriage Ban

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a volunteer counsel from Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller law firm filed a federal lawsuit July 8, on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians who would like to marry in Pennsylvania or have their out-of-state marriages recognized.

The lawsuit, Whitehood v. Corbett, alleges that Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the fundamental right to marry, said the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a statement the next day.

“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 to MSNBC, who has been with her spouse Susan Whitewood for 22 years. “Our life is built around our relationship and the family we have made.”
Deb and Susan Whitewood of Bridgeville in Allegheny County, are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with their teenage daughters, Abbey and Katie.

The family also includes two-year-old Landon, who was placed in foster care with the Whitehoods when he was 11 months old and later adopted by the couple. Deb and Susan have lived together in a committed relationship for 22 years. They are devout Christians and their family is actively involved in the Christ United Methodist Church of Bethel Park.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania states the plaintiffs are a diverse group of Pennsylvanians: Some are Baptist, Catholic, Quaker; others are Buddhist, Jewish or Secular. They are African-American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian. They come from all walks of life including an emergency room doctor, a teacher, a truck driver, an executive at BNY Mellon, retirees, a dog trainer, a stay-at-home mom, and veterans. Many have been together for decades, and some are raising children together.

“The couples in this lawsuit are united by love, family and commitment, which are the cornerstones of marriage. They are married in every sense of the word, except one – under Pennsylvania law. Today’s suit seeks to give Pennsylvania’s same-sex couples the freedom to marry,” said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

This lawsuit comes less than two weeks after the marriage equality victory in U.S. v. Windsor, where the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, giving lesbian and gay couples federal protections- such as social security and health insurance.

The ACLU also announced July 9 that it will challenge North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage and is currently seeking to overturn similar statutes in Virginia prohibiting same-sex marriage as well as recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.