ACLU Challenging Same-Sex Marriage Ban in Pa. -- Then N.C. and Va.

By Susan Jones | July 9, 2013 | 11:49am EDT

Deb, a stay-at-home mom, and Susan, an executive at BNY Mellon, live in Bridgeville, Pa. and are among the 23 plaintiffs suing the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the right to legally marry, the ACLU announced on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Photo from ACLU website)

( - The American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of 23 plaintiffs, announced on Tuesday that it is challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's laws barring same-sex marriage and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

"Pennsylvania's exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage infringes on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit comes two weeks after the ACLU's victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which requires federal recognition of lesbian and gay couples who are married under state law.

And this is just the beginning. The ACLU says it plans to amend an existing adoption lawsuit in North Carolina, adding the right of same-sex couples to marry; and it plan to file a right-to-marry lawsuit in Virginia in the coming weeks as co-counsel with Lambda Legal.

The Pennsylvania plaintiffs include 10 couples, two minor children of those couples, and one widow who recently lost her partner of 29 years.

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Deb and Susan Whitewood of Bridgeville in Allegheny County, along with their teenage daughters, Abbey and Katie. According to the ACLU, Deb and Susan are "devout Christians" and have "lived together in a committed relationship for 22 years."

The lawsuit argues that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban, enacted in 1996, excludes same-sex couples from the many legal protections and federal benefits available to spouses. The lawsuit describes those protections and benefits in detail.

It says that excluding same-sex couples from marriage also harms couples and their children by "denying them the social recognition that comes with marriage."

According to the lawsuit, "The terms 'married' and 'spouse' have universally understood meanings that command respect for a couple's relationship and the commitment they have made. The exclusion from the esteemed institution of marriage also demeans and stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples and their children by sending the message
that they are less worthy and valued than families headed by opposite-sex couples."

The lawsuit further notes:

Neither tradition nor moral disapproval of same-sex relationships or marriage for lesbian and gay couples is a legitimate basis for unequal treatment of same-sex couples under the law. The fact that a discriminatory law is long-standing does not immunize it from constitutional scrutiny. And the Supreme Court has made clear that the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give effect to private biases and has expressly rejected moral disapproval of marriage for same-sex couples as a legitimate basis for discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay couples.

In the recent Supreme Court decision gutting the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, controversially wrote that the DOMA was invalid, since its "purpose and effect" were "to disparage and to injure" same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by the state.

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia blasted Kennedy's suggestion that defending traditional marriage is the same as demeaning or humiliating people who prefer other arrangements.

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