The Freedom to Marry in Pensylvania

Winning Marriage: May 20, 2014

Same-sex couples began marrying in Pennsylvania on May 20, 2014 after U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in a federal legal case challenging the state’s anti-marriage laws. The Governor and Attorney General of Pennsylvania declined to appeal the decision, and the freedom to marry took effect once and for all. The decision followed years of organizing and public education in the state about why marriage matters to same-sex couples. Read the ruling.

History and the Path to Victory:

  • October 16, 1996: The Pennsylvania Legislature passes a state statute restricting marriage to different-sex couples. The law is signed by Governor Tom Ridge.
  • 1996-2013: As Americans nationwide engage in conversations about why marriage matters, national and local advocates in Pennsylvania take strides toward increasing understanding of same-sex couples and their families.
  • May 2013: Polling in Pennsylvania tracks majority support for the freedom to marry, reflecting the power of the national discussion of why marriage matters.
  • July 9, 2013: Same-sex couples, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania file a federal legal case seeking the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania, Whitewood v. Wolf. In the same year, several other cases are filed, building momentum for marriage in the courts. Read the initial complaint – and meet the plaintiffs
  • July 11, 2013: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces that she will not defend laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, explaining that the laws are unconstitutional.
  • December 11, 2013: Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania, the coalition to win the freedom to marry and continue the conversation about same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, is launched.
  • May 20, 2014: Judge John E. Jones III, a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush, rules in favor of the freedom to marry, striking down Pennsylvania's ban on marriage for same-sex couples in this case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, after both sides agreed there was no need for a trial, as the state did not defend the marriage ban. The ruling does not come with a stay attached, and same-sex couples begin applying for marriage licenses immediately. Read the ruling.
  • May 21, 2014: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announces he will not appeal Judge Jones’ ruling, allowing the freedom to marry to take effect in PA once and for all.
  • June 26, 2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry, ending marriage discrimination across the country.

Groups That Actively Worked on Marriage

  • Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania.
  • Equality Pennsylvania works to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in Pennsylvania through coalition building, education, organizing, and policy reform. Formerly, the organization was called the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, and later, Equality Advocates PA.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization dedicated to defending and expanding individual rights an
  • Freedom to Marry was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.