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And Pennsylvania Makes Nineteen!

James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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May 21, 2014

Yesterday a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled for the freedom to marry, and today the state’s governor, Tom Corbett, announced that he won’t appeal the judge’s ruling.

That means that Pennsylvania now becomes the 19th state in the nation (plus DC) to allow same-sex couples to marry.

With the victories in Oregon, a federal judge ruled for marriage equality there on Monday, and Pennsylvania, over 43 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a freedom-to-marry state. That’s up from 16 percent less than 18 months ago!

At the heart of the case is Maureen Hennessey, a widow who lost her spouse and partner of 29 years, Mary Beth McIntyre, a year ago last Sunday. Judge Jones captured Maureen’s story well:

When Mary Beth was diagnosed with inoperable Stage 4 lung cancer, Maureen left her job to care for her and to help run Mary Beth’s business until her death. Towards the end of her life, Mary Beth required Maureen’s help to get out of bed and to the bathroom, and to assist in self-care and administer medications. They were married in Massachusetts after Mary Beth fell ill, but because Pennsylvania does not recognize their marriage, the line for “surviving spouse” was left blank and Mary Beth was identified as “never married” on her death certificate. Maureen was listed as the “informant.”

Maureen lent her name and her story to this fight, and she’s clearly made a difference.

Judge Jones held that the Constitution protects the right to marry for everyone, including same-sex couples. And he concluded that when the government discriminates against lesbians and gay men, courts must require the government to come forward with a very strong justification – which he found utterly lacking here.

Governor Corbett’s decision not to appeal reinforces that marriage is not a partisan issue – it’s an issue of fundamental fairness and dignity for all people, including lesbians and gay men.

While this recognition comes too late for Mary Beth McIntyre, her wife Maureen can be proud of what the two of them helped accomplish.

So here’s a kiss and a hug to Maureen, and best wishes to couples throughout Pennsylvania. Let the wedding bells ring!

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