If Marriage Equality Comes to PA, Then What

There are six pending marriage equality cases in Pennsylvania right now.

Two are in the Federal District Courts

  • Whitewood v. Wolf*
  • Palladino v. Corbett*

In State Court

  • Pennsylvania Health Dept. v. Hanes*
  • Ballen v. Corbett*
  • Cucinotta v. Pennsylvania*
  • In re Estate of Burgi-Rios*

Whitewood v Wolf is the case with which you are most likely familiar – the case in which the ACLU is involved. There will be no trial in this case – the ACLU has a good FAQ explaining the nuances of the legal situation. Instead, both sides have submitted a motion for summary judgment – in other words, they agree on the facts of the case and want the judge to rule on the interpretation of the law.

May 12, 2014 is the deadline for all parties to submit the required documentation. The court can rule at any point after that time and there is no predicting how long it may take.

The question is whether there might me a “marriage window” for PA residents to marry legally (assuming the judge rules in favor of marriage equality) before a stay is issued pending an appeal. It is reasonable that Corbett will appeal because he’s facing a reelection challenge. A “stay” is like a hold – the decision is in place, but nothing happens yet.

ACLU Plaintiffs Photo NYT
ACLU Plaintiffs Photo NYT

I spoke with Equality PA about this window and what it means.

In most states, even if the judge decided in favor of marriage equality, they put a stay on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending appeal. If the judge in PA does that, then nothing will really change for people on the ground. Then it will be up to the state to make the next move. 

 If the judge does not issue a stay, then people could theoretically get licenses, but we don’t know what that means if the state decides to appeal. It would leave couples in a legal limbo.

Pennsylvania has a three-day waiting period on marriage – you apply for the license and wait three days to actually receive it, then you can marry. So if the court rules, but does not issue an automatic stay, you might be able to apply for a marriage license. If the stay is not issued within 3 days, you might be able to marry. A license is valid for 60 days.  This link has the basic information on the marriage license process in Pennsylvania.

The trick is that if/when the Commonwealth appeals, those marriages could be in legal limbo.

There are other factors to consider

  • If you have registered for a domestic partnership, you are required to dissolve that before marrying.
  • If you have married out-of-state and want to register your marriage, that’s a little unclear.
  • PA is a second parent adoption state and experts advise all same-sex couples to complete second-parent adoption regardless of where you live because of the uneven state laws.
  • A marriage license is a public document so you could be fired and in most of the Commonwealth, that is legal.
  • Divorce is still not something LGBTQ couples can seek in Pennsylvania and that likely won’t change until the larger issue is resolved.

A victory is something we all want, but it is imperative that you add legal planning into your wedding planning. And you may not like the answers reputable LGBTQ family lawyers will have for you. But entering into a marriage with a person of the same gender while you both live in Pennsylvania puts you in very uncertain legal territory and it is much better to spend the money ahead of time to know what you are getting into than to find out later that something is amiss.

So on May 12 which is a Monday, we could all very well queue at the County Courthouse to apply for a marriage license. (Hopefully, Allegheny County Chief Executive has some contingency plans in place because they close at 4:30 on Mondays.) And receive those licenses on Thursday and get married on Thursday. It will be an exciting experience and a heady step forward.

There’s no right or wrong way to marry, but making uninformed decisions can have lasting repercussions for your family – especially for your children. And while very frustrating that we have so many extra hoops through which we must jump, that’s the way it is. Equality is a bumpy road and we have to inject some thought and reasonable precautions into our wedding planning.

Laura and I were joking the other day that because we have good friends who are respectively a florist and a caterer, those are the details we need to worry about the least if we were to marry. But even though Ledcat is a lawyer herself and I read about this every single day – we still have a lot of unanswered questions.

Life was so much simpler when I wanted to grow up to marry Simon LeBon or Buddy from “Family.”

The ACLU and Equality PA will be issuing more information as it becomes available, but nothing will be certain until the judge issues their ruling and both parties respond.

Then there are the 5 other cases which could make things more complicated and challenging!

One issue that marriage equality won’t “fix” is the impact of poverty in our community. It might help, it might not. But our neighbors need our help. Please join me in launching Cathy’s Closet – a personal care closet to provide items our neighbors need in a safe, dignified environment. Your modest donation – right now – can get us closer to our goal of opening for Pride Month (June.) Thank you.

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