In a Nov. 15 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III denied requests by the state Department of Health and the Bucks County Register of Wills to dismiss Whitewood v. Corbett. The defendants sought to rely on a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court precedent that found that marriage is a state, not federal, issue; however, Jones argued that institution of marriage has seen a "sea change" in the ensuing decades. He said that "significant doctrinal developments in the four decades" since that ruling, including this summer's overturning of a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, would prevent him from dismissing the case on that ground.
Jones' ruling clears the way for the case to head to trial. The parties will meet for a case-management conference to determine the next phases of the case Nov. 22.
The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, along with the national ACLU and Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, in July on behalf of 10 same-sex couples, two of their children and a widow. Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Gov. Tom Corbett were originally named as defendants, but Jones allowed Kane — who has refused to defend the state ban on same-sex marriage — and Corbett to be dismissed from the case.
“We are delighted that our clients will have their day in court," said attorney Mark Aronchick. "These couples are married in every sense of the word, except one — under Pennsylvania law. We are simply asking for the state to recognize their love and commitment."
Last week, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that added another couple to the list of plaintiffs.
Last month, Jones said a potential trial would be "earlier rather than later" in 2014.
At least five other cases are pending in state and federal court, challenging Pennsylvania's 1996 ban on same-sex marriage.