The ACLU on Tuesday announced a trio of lawsuits that will test the constitutionality of state laws barring gay marriage.
The suits, filed in Pennsylvania and North Carolina with another to come in Virginia, are part of a carefully crafted effort to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law, known as DOMA, barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Legal challenges to state same-sex marriage bans have popped up in other places since the Supreme Court’s decision last month. But the ACLU was a central figure in the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, and it has the resources to launch a coordinated, potent campaign in the states.
The lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the only northeast state that bans gay marriage and does not allow civil unions, focuses on the state’s refusal to recognize other states’ legally performed same-sex marriages. Many said after the Supreme Court ruling that such a stance now might be legally vulnerable.
The Pennsylvania case includes 10 couples, two children of those couples and a widow whose partner of 29 years recently died. They are suing to ensure the state recognizes their unions.
An attorney involved in the case said it is about fairness and whether the government can justify continuing to treat same-sex couples differently than heterosexual couples. "We believe that this law cannot stand under any level of scrutiny because excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not further any legitimate government interest,” attorney Mark Aronchick said in a statement. “It serves only to insult and hurt lesbian and gay couples and their families.”
Notably, Aronchick echoed Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion striking down DOMA. Kennedy wrote that DOMA ensured that “if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”
In North Carolina, the ACLU suit is on behalf of six families with same-sex parents. It challenges a state ban on so-called “second-parent adoption,” where one partner in an unmarried couple adopts the other’s child.
“North Carolina’s law denies children the permanency and security of a loving home simply because their parents are lesbian or gay,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This is fundamentally wrong. No parent should have to worry about what will happen to their children if something happens to their partner.”
The Virginia suit is expected to be filed in the coming weeks, the ACLU said.
State officials in states with same-sex marriage bans have vowed to defend their laws, especially those passed with overwhelming public support. They say the lawsuits seek to subvert the will of the voters.