A federal judge declared Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional Tuesday, saying it's time to toss such laws "into the ash heap of history."
USA Today reports that Judge John Jones III, who appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, makes Pennsylvania the last Northeast state to allow same-sex marriages.
This ruling follows closely on the footsteps of Oregon becoming the 18th state where gay couples can marry.
In the past five months, federal judges in 10 states and a state judge in Arkansas have struck down bans on same sex marriage. Appeals are under way in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Idaho. Eventually, one or more of those cases is expected to reach the Supreme Court - perhaps as soon as next year.
Although a 1996 state law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, twenty-one Pennsylvanians sued the state last July for the right to marry there or to have out-of-state marriages recognized. The lawsuit, filed by the state American Civil Liberties Union, claimed the state's own Defense of Marriage Act and its refusal to marry lesbian and gay couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry - and, by discriminating based on sexual orientation, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
"Plaintiffs suffer a multitude of daily harms, for instance in the area of child-rearing, health care, taxation and end-of--life planning," Jones wrote.
He called the couples who brought the case "courageous" and said his ruling brings the court in line with "12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage."
However, Pennsylvanians who believe marriage be defined as between a man and a woman are disappointed by the ruling.
"This is an unfortunate direction for our state," said Mark Denklin, a pastor in Philadelphia, PA. "We're seeing this trend around the country-this trend that clearly violates the commands of God."
"This is a sad day," says Marion White of Franklin, Pennsylvania. "It's discouraging to realize my children will grow up in a culture that does not define marriage in the Biblical way."
Jones concluded his opinion by noting that in the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education challenged the premise of separate but equal, "'separate' has thankfully faded into history and only 'equal' remains."
He said the term "same-sex marriage" will be abandoned in favor of "marriage" someday.
"We are a better people than what these laws represent," Jones wrote. "It is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."