U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a conservative Republican appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, has just struck down Pennsylvania's marriage discrimination amendment as unconstitutional. He did not stay his decision, meaning that it goes into effect immediately, same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses, and all existing legal marriages between spouses of the same gender are now recognized as valid. State law requires a three-day waiting period before marriage ceremonies can take place.
Marriage equality is now the law of the land in the entire northeastern United States, and -- as of yesterday, when a judge struck down Oregon's ban -- the entire West Coast as well.
The ruling comes in Whitewood v. Wolf, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 11 same-sex couples who wish to marry in Pennsylvania or have their out-of-state same-gender marriages recognized, a widow of a same-sex spouse, and two teenage children of one of the plaintiff couples.
The state agreed last month to allow Judge Jones to rule without a trial after it was unable to find a single "expert witness" to testify against the plaintiffs' argument that Pennsylvania's ban is irrational and harmful. The state's Republican governor, Tom Corbett, hired private counsel to defend the discriminatory ban -- at great expense to Pennsylvania taxpayers -- after Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane refused to do so.
This is a developing story -- check back for updates. And in the meantime, ring that Liberty Bell!
UPDATE: Heightened scrutiny!! Judge Jones: "To summarize, we find that all four factors weigh in favor of a finding that gay and lesbian persons compose a class that is subject to heightened scrutiny."
UPDATE 2: From the ruling --
"The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of 'separate but equal.'... In the sixty years since Brown was decided, 'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage.
"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."
Judge Jones also starts sections of his ruling with snippets from the standard marriage vows ("For better, for worse;" "Until death do us part;" etc.).
UPDATE 3: Jeremy Hooper points out at Good As You that Judge Jones's nomination to the federal bench (in 2002, by President George W. Bush) was praised by none other than then-Senator Rick Santorum, one of America's most outspoken homophobes.
A copy of the ruling is after the jump, via Equality Case Files.