Marriage Equality USA

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State of Pennsylvania
All in this Region

Current Status

  • Civil marriage equality in effect at the state level since 2014. (Same-sex couples may legally marry.)
  • 2 cases in Federal District Court (3rd), 3 cases in state trial court.


  • PA has prohibited same-sex marriage by statute (state law) since 1996. 
  • Attempts to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality were made in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013. All failed.
  • Several attempts to legalize same-sex civil marriages failed in the state legislature while the Republicans had the majority in either House.
  • Marriage equality in PA finally became legal on 20 May 2014, when U.S. Federal District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Commonwealth's 1996 statutory ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Legislation - Pending

SB 292 - Conscientious Objection Act

Introduced: 20 January 2015


  • Another so-called "religious freedom"/"freedom to discriminate" bill, this bill would allow any health care provider or institution to refuse to provide any health care/medical service to a person (interpret as any LGBT person or any woman seeking an abortion) if providing that care would "violate their consciences."

Legislation - Enacted


Lawsuits - Pending

In re Estate of Burgi-Rios

Case #:
Court Level: Trial
Date Filed: 25 October 2013
Date of Appeal:


  • 25 October 2013, an estate tax case was filed by a lesbian widow. The case seeks recognition of marriages entered into by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions; it includes federal claims.
  • 29 April 2014, oral argument was held, during which attorney Thomas Gohsler, representing Pennsylvania, asked Northampton County Judge Craig Dally to dismiss Barbara Baus' petition to have her out-of-state marriage to the late Katherine Burgi-Rios recognized by the state. The issue wasn't about civil rights or same-sex marriage, he reasoned, but one of tax law that belonged in front of a review board.
  • June 2014, Gohsler asked Dally to dismiss the petition as moot in light of the federal ruling ordering the state to recognize same-sex marriages (20 May 2014, in Whitewood). As a result, the department agreed Baus is entitled to the inheritance tax exemption offered to spouses and Baus will no longer have to make a payment of more than $10,600.
  • Baus’ attorney Attorney Benjamin Jerner said the case still isn’t settled - that he would like Dally to rule on sections of the inheritance tax law that speak of "a husband and a wife," language that on its face excludes same-sex couples. While the state has indicated it will interpret those provisions to include gay marriages, Jerner said he worries future revenue departments may think differently. "We've come so far, we want to make sure that all of the claims that we've raised are addressed," Jerner said.
Palladino v. Corbett

Case #: 13-5641
Court Level: Federal District Court (3rd)
Date Filed: 26 September 2013
Date of Appeal:


  • 26 September 2013, a couple filed a federal suit to force PA to recognize their 2005 MA marriage. The Equality Forum suit raises two new federal constitutional questions (whether states must respect laws from other states, and whether citizens can travel between states without losing rights).
  • 9 December 2013, PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane sought to be dismissed as a defendant because her office was not involved in violating the plaintiffs’ rights.
  • 13 January 2014, the plaintiffs asked the court skip the trial and issue a summary judgment.
  • 18 March 2014, the court scheduled oral arguments for May 2014 and a 2-week trial for June.
  • 15 May 2014, oral arguments for summary judgment in the case were held.
  • 28 May 2014, the case seemed to be rendered moot when Governor Corbett decided not to appeal the decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, recognizing same-sex marriages in the state. The court ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why the case should not be dismissed in light of Whitewood.
  • 17 June 2014, a hearing on that order was held.
Ballen v. Corbett

Case #: 481 M.D. 2013
Court Level: Trial
Date Filed: 25 September 2013
Date of Appeal:


  • 25 September 2013, attorney Alexander Bilus sued in state court for 21 couples who claim that (1) the PA same-gender civil marriage ban violates both the PA and the U.S. constitutions, and (2) the legality of the plaintiffs’ Montgomery County, PA marriages should be affirmed.
  • 18 February 2014, PA asked the court to dismiss the suit.
  • Petitioners filed brief 18 March 2014 and amended brief 21 March 2014.
  • 23 May 2014, respondents filed an application to dismiss for mootness as a result of the federal Whitewood decision.
  • 29 May 2014, oral argument before the Court sitting en banc scheduled for 18 June 2014 was canceled.
  • Plaintiffs filed their answer to the application on 6 June 2014.
  • 16 June 2014, plaintiffs filed an amended answer to application to dismiss.
Cucinotta v. Pennsylvania

Case #: 451 M.D. 2013
Court Level: Trial
Date Filed: 6 September 2013
Date of Appeal:


  • Preliminary objections (the equivalent of a motion to dismiss) have been fully briefed and await scheduling of a hearing.
  • Oral argument before the Court sitting en banc was scheduled for 18 June 2014, but was canceled.
  • 23 May 2014, respondents filed an application to dismiss for mootness as a result of the federal Whitewood decision.
  • 9 June 2014, the plaintiffs filed their answer to the application.
  • 20 June 2014, the application to dismiss was denied and the case was suspended pending final resolution of Whitewood. A motion to dismiss may be refiled after all appeals are resolved in Whitewood.
Whitewood v. Wolf (formerly Deb & Susan Whitewood v. PA Governor Tom Corbett et al.)

Case #: 1:13-cv-01861 (Federal District Court), #14-3048 (3rd Circuit Court of Appeals)
Court Level: Federal District Court (3rd)
Date Filed: 9 July 2013
Date of Appeal:
Ruling Date: 20 May 2014


  • 9 July 2013, 23 people (a widow, 10 same-gender couples, 4 of which were legally married in other states, and 2 of their teenage daughters) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the 1996 PA law that bans same-gender marriage for residents, and that ignores out-of-state same-gender marriages.
  • 1 November 2013, Washington County, PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and PA Governor Tom Corbett all were dismissed as defendants, and Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser and Health Secretary Michael Wolf were added to join the two county officials who are already defendants.
  • 15 November 2013, the judge rejected two separate efforts to dismiss the suit.
  • 22 November 2013, the judge rejected a request to delay the case, and set a trial date of 9 June 2014, but the former state Supreme Court justice defending the state (whose said he would appeal the district court’s refusal to dismiss the case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • 17 December 2013, the judge rejected PA lawyers’ argument that his court lacks authority to decide the case, and then blocked any higher court review.
  • 20 May 2014, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III issued a decision striking down the PA marriage ban as unconstitutional.
  • 21 May 2014 the governor announced he would not appeal the decision.
  • An anti-gay organization was denied intervention by the district court; waiting for ruling from Circuit about whether appeal will be dismissed as frivolous or a briefing schedule will be set.
  • 6 June 2014, a PA county clerk, Theresa Santai-Gaffney, the Register of Wills and Orphans' Court Clerk for Schuylkill County, moved to intervene in the district court in order to be able to appeal.
  • 18 June 2014 the district judge denied the clerk’s motion to intervene.
  • 18 June 2014 the clerk appealed the denial of motion to intervene to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • 3 July 2014, the 3rd Circuit denied the appeal, and the motion for a stay pending appeal was dismissed as moot.
  • 3 July 2014, after the 3rd Circuit ruling, clerk Santai-Gaffney again applied for a stay of judgment, this time to Justice Samuel Alito at the Supreme Court of the United States. (Santai-Gaffney v. Whitewood, #14A19).
  • 9 July 2014, Justice Alito denied the clerk's application for a stay.
  • 17 July 2014, Santai-Gaffney filed for a 3rd Circuit rehearing or rehearing en banc.

Lawsuits - Resolved

Pennsylvania Health Department v. Montgomery County Court Clerk Bruce Hanes

Case #: 379 M.D. 2013
Date Filed: 30 July 2013
Ruling Date: 27 May 2014


  • 30 July 2013, PA sued a county clerk who eventually issued 174 same-gender civil marriage licenses. Clerk Bruce Hanes and Attorney General Kathleen Kane both said that the state marriage ban was unconstitutional.
  • 4 September 2013, oral arguments were held.
  • 12 September 2013, the trial court ruled that Hanes, the county clerk, did not have the authority to issue marriage licenses before a ruling on the state marriage ban.
  • 1 October 2013, the county appealed to the PA Supreme Court.
  • 2 December 2013, lawyers for Hanes urged the PA Supreme Court to overturn the order that stopped Hanes from issuing any more same-gender civil marriage licenses.
  • 27 May 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted an unopposed motion by the clerk to allow him to resume marrying same-sex couples in light of the federal Whitewood decision.

Ballot Initiatives - Pending


Ballot Initiatives - Passed



  • 22 December 2014, the results of a poll run by Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll in late November and early December show 62% of respondents support legal recognition of marriages between gay and lesbian people. 32% do not, and 6% were undecided.
  • 3 June 2014, Public Policy Polling released results of a poll that showed despite the strongly negative view of Governor Corbett's job performance, a significant portion of the voters agree with his decision not to appeal the court ruling allowing marriage equality in the state. 45% of the voters agree with the ruling, 56 % agree with Corbett's decision not to appeal, including 39% of Republicans. Poll Details
  • On 3 March 2014, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,405 registered PA voters regarding same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 57% support it, 37% oppose it, and 6% don’t know or don’t answer.
  • On 26 February 2014, Public Religion Research Institute surveyed 227 PA residents regarding same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 61% support it, 35% do not, and 3% do not know or refuse to answer.