A federal judge struck down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday afternoon.
Judge John Jones III ruled in favor of 23 Pennsylvania residents who challenged the state's 1996 Defense of Marriage Act by filing a suit with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The issue we resolve today is a divisive one," Jones said. "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."
In declaring Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the judge did not, however, issue a stay of his own ruling, meaning it will go into effect immediately. The decision can and likely will be challenged in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
With the addition of Pennsylvania, 44 percent of the nation's population lives in a state that permits gay and lesbian couples to marry. Pennsylvania was the last remaining state in the Northeast to outlaw gay marriage.
Last year, Attorney General Kathleen Kane called the law unconstitutional and refused to support Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's decision to defend it.
Today, Kane, a Democrat, said the ruling brought "justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation."
State Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person elected to Pennsylvania's General Assembly, lauded the court's decision.
"Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love," Sims said.
Shortly after the ruling on Tuesday, Sims took to Twitter and posted a photo of Rue Landau and her partner Kerry Smith. The pair is believed to be the first couple to receive a legal marriage license in Pa.
Members of Equality Pennsylvania, a gay-rights advocacy group, also celebrated the ruling.
“We went to New Jersey to be legally married back in March, and it wasn’t until we sought out that marriage license did we realize how important this was to us,” Equality PA member Tom Waters said. “We have been together for 17 years and we own a home together and if anything happened to either one of us, it means the world to know that we would be able to protect our family. You can’t put a price tag on that. We hope we can get a Pennsylvania license in time for our ceremony this weekend.”
Philadelphia Archdiocese Archbishop Charles Chaput, however, called the court's decision, "a mistake with long-term negative consequences."
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Chaput issued a statement in which he called for a prompt appeal of the ruling.
"Like many other Pennsylvanians, I hope that an appeal will be made promptly. Laws that defend the traditional definition of marriage were enacted for sound reasons—namely to defend the rights of children and contribute to the well-being of the larger community," he said.
"All men and women are formed in the image of God and deserve our respect. But attempts to redefine the nature of marriage, no matter how well intentioned, damage a cornerstone of our human interaction and ultimately work against human dignity itself."
Philadelphia's Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphan's Court Ronald Donatucci extended office hours for his Marriage License Bureau to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Donatucci said the bureau will also be open as early as 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning to allow couples more time to apply for marriage licenses.
Last year, Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes was sued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for his decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in spite of the state's law.
Hanes says he's looking forward to having restrictions that were implemented by the suit lifted so that he can once again issue marriage licenses to couples in Montgomery County.
"I applaud the courage of the couples and families that brought this challenge, and have instructed the County attorneys to file an emergency application with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to remove the restrictions placed on my office by the Court and the Department of Health, and permit my office to join the other sixty-six counties in the Commonwealth in issuing marriage licenses," Hanes said.
"I am hopeful that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will act swiftly to remove this last obstacle to marriage equality in Pennsylvania, and I look forward to once again issuing marriage licenses to all who seek them."