UPDATED Decision Day PA: What Happens After The Marriage Equality Ruling(s)

Marriage equality has come to Pennsylvania after a decision was handed down today. A stay was not issued, but we encourage you to read this FAQ by the ACLU of Pennsylvania for more information. More details coming after tonight’s Decision Day Rally.

 

Congratulations to Oregon! From Freedom to Marry:

Eighteen states – CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, and WA – plus Washington, D.C. have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

In an additional eleven states, judges have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry, with many of these rulings now stayed as they proceed to appellate courts: In AR, ID, MI, OK, TX, UT, and VA judges have struck down marriage bans, and in IN, KY, OH, and TN, judges have issued more limited pro-marriage rulings.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have six active court cases around marriage equality. We are waiting for a ruling in Whitewood v Wolf – what’s being hailed as “Decision Day.”

I’m discussing (haranguing) the ACLU for updates on what we PA residents can expect on Decision Day. Will be able to run to our County Seats and get married? No. The ACLU assures me it is producing a FAQ that will be available on their website, but they have to produce multiple editions because the ruling could go various directions.

The important thing to remember – Pennsylvania has a 3 day waiting period from the license being issued until you can be married by a PA officiant. That makes the “marriage window” between a court decision and a stay very narrow indeed.

  1. If we win, the judge could order an immediate stay which means no same-sex couples could apply for marriage licenses until either 30 days have gone by with no appeal or, not until the appeals process has played itself out.
  2. If we win the judge could instead issue a temporary stay, allowing registers of wills to have time to update their forms to be non-gender specific.
  3. If we win, the judge could instead not mention a stay at all, which theoretically would mean that same-sex couples could go and apply for marriage licenses immediately. If there is not stay ordered by the judge initially, the commonwealth could ask for a stay pretty quickly if they are planning to appeal, which would mean that couples would have a license but not have time to marry since there is a three-day waiting period after a license is issued.
  4. The final scenario on winning is the judge does not order a stay and the commonwealth does not appeal, which would be mean marriage for everyone in the state. This would officially happen either after 30 days of the ruling or if the commonwealth decides sooner to say they aren’t appealing.

My best guess as a blogger (I am not a lawyer) is that we are going to get a positive ruling (we’ll win!) but there will be a speedy stay, either immediate or before the 3 day waiting period elapses. I don’t think we’ll have wedding bells just yet. That’s pure speculation on my part. I just don’t think the Republicans can let that happen with a tight race for Governor, even the Republicans who believe in marriage equality.

The ACLU is also working with the Registrar of Wills in all PA counties to determine *if* they will remain open longer hours if we get a positive ruling and no stay is issued (or not immediately.)

Again, it is very important that you know your options and not rush into what could be legal limbo for years. Couples who married in Utah during the “window” are now in a situation where the federal government and several states recognize their marriage, yet Utah does not. ??? And that gets even more complicated in situations involving adoption as Zack Ford points out in an interesting piece in Think Progress. Talking with a reputable lawyer is very important.

Remember, if there’s no marriage window there might not be divorce. That’s a long time, folks.

(Every time I bring this up I’m reminder of the person who insisted that couples could dissolve their marriages themselves or use a prenuptial agreement to do that. People seriously think that. Not stupid people, otherwise bright people. Don’t be foolish, folks. Being legally tied to someone and not able to untie yourself is not a decision to make lightly. I’m also reminded of a friend whose employer asked her to go get married in Maryland rather than create domestic partner benefits for her family. Yeah, that’s probably not a legal requirement for your employees … people are absurdly ignorant of how all of this works.)

I mean – EIGHTEEN STATES! That’s pretty impressive. I feel bad for the graphics teams who have to almost weekly update their charts and graphs, but I feel worse for the lawyers and the accountants and the others who are trying to help LGBTQ couples navigate choppy waters.

Seriously, ask a lawyer. Not a blogger, not an advocate, not a really smart person who happens to be queer. Don’t ask your cousin who knows someone who got gay married in Idaho. Don’t use Google. It doesn’t count if you went to high school with someone who knows Evan Wolfson. A LGBTQ family law lawyer. Sorry, but I still remember when licensed lawyer and ally gave bad information about marriage and adoption at a marriage rally – I know he meant well, but he should not have said that. Don’t get any advice from a rally – people are all excited and high on glitter and the ecstasy of being slightly more visible and not in a place to give advice.

My partner IS a lawyer and we still have to see a lawyer. Because she’s a lawyer and has been monitoring marriage equality law since 1990 so she knows what she can’t know. Lawyers are tricky like that.