Judge John Jones struck down the Pennsylvania legislature's 1996 laws that refused to recognize same-sex marriage. Jones, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, declined to block enforcement of his ruling Tuesday (May 20), enabling same-sex couples to begin applying for marriage licenses immediately. Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican opponent of same-sex marriage, has yet to announce if he will appeal the opinion.
Jones' ruling followed by a day a similar ruling in Oregon, where a federal judge struck down a 2004 voter-approved amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Judge Michael McShane also refused to stay enforcement of his decision.
Oregon and Pennsylvania became the 18th and 19th states with legalized same-sex marriage in effect. Judges have invalidated gay marriage bans in another eight states -- Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia -- since U.S. Supreme Court opinions in June of last year, but those rulings in the states have been stayed while under appeal, as reported by The Washington Post. Federal judges also have ruled same-sex marriages performed in other states should be recognized in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, The Post reported.
The decisions in Pennsylvania and Oregon mean all the states in the Northeast, as well as those on the West Coast, have legalized same-sex marriage.
Southern Baptist lead ethicist Russell D. Moore said May 20, "This is a story we see, it seems, every week these days. Another court imposes same-sex marriage on another state. We should continue to persuasively set forth the case for why we believe marriage isn't a creation of the state, to be redefined at will, but is instead an ordinance of God."
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also said in a statement for Baptist Press, "Most of all, let's remember that the Sexual Revolution can't deliver on its promises. Let's be ready to offer a Gospel of power for those who will be disappointed by these empty claims of liberation."
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., on his May 21 podcast "The Briefing," said the addition of Pennsylvania to the gay marriage column also means "that a majority of Americans now live in those states that have legal same-sex marriage."
With the legal system rapidly endorsing gay marriage, Mohler also took note of the workplace, saying, "We need to face the fact that younger Christians in America are going to face a world that most of us as older adults have simply never had to face. They're going to routinely face -- for the entirety of their employment lives -- the reality that they can easily be on the wrong side of a cultural controversy that can cost them their jobs, harm them in terms of their professional prospects. ...
"That's a new thing in this society, and we ought not to let it pass without very sober notice," Mohler said.
In striking down Pennsylvania's marriage laws, Jones cited their violation of "equal protection" principles. He wrote in his opinion, "We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."
In addition to Oregon, the West Coast states with same-sex marriage are California and Washington. The other states with legal gay marriage are Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. The District of Columbia also has approved same-sex marriage.
In a June 2013 decision that seemed to help open the way for the legalization of gay marriage in the states, the Supreme Court said the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated "equal protection" under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion meant same-sex couples gained access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.
In another other opinion last June, the justices ruled on a procedural question that had the effect of allowing to stand a federal judge's invalidation of a California amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage. The court, however, refused to say states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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