February 1, 2024

When Was Gay Marriage Legalized in Pennsylvania?

As the debate around why marriage matters continues, national and local advocates take strides toward a greater understanding of same-sex couples and their families. Pennsylvania is no exception. In May, 2013, polling tracked increasing majority support for the freedom to marry in the state. That same month, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other states violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A day later, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones dismantled the law and ordered the commonwealth to allow same-sex couples to marry and to recognize valid out-of-state marriages. In doing so, Jones joined a nationwide juggernaut of rulings that struck down marriage limits on the grounds they are motivated by animus and inflict stigma.

The decision in Whitewood v. Wolf was a victory for Pennsylvania same-sex couples and a powerful reminder of the importance of protecting the right to marry. It was the first time that a federal court had ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act and the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code unconstitutionally discriminated against lesbians and gays.

Since then, the state has not appealed the ruling and same-sex couples can get married in the commonwealth. The question remains, however, what will happen if the Supreme Court strikes down Obergefell and leaves the current law in place? University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Barrington Wolff explains what could occur.


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