Two women who wed in Massachusetts before moving to Pennsylvania asked a federal court on Sept. 26 to force their new home state to recognize the marriage, as it does for opposite-sex couples.
The plaintiffs, Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino, say they are being denied marriage-related benefits, from filing joint state tax returns to co-owning property. They also have encountered reams of paperwork for health care coverage and prepared legal documents to protect the interests of their son – red tape they say wouldn't be needed if their marriage was recognized.
"My Massachusetts marriage certificate is the same as any other couple that comes from Massachusetts," Palladino said. "It seems to me that that's the essence of discrimination. If you're taking the same piece of paper and you're treating it differently because of our status, that doesn't seem fair."
Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeastern U.S. without same-sex marriage or civil unions. Like 36 other states, it also does not recognize gay marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions. The lawsuit asks a judge to declare unconstitutional the state law barring recognition of such unions.
At a news conference overlooking Independence Hall, lawyers for Barker and Palladino said the statute infringes on the pair's constitutional right to travel among states without penalty and violates the guarantee that states will respect each other's judgments and decrees.
The lawsuit notes Pennsylvania honors opposite-sex marriages performed elsewhere "without qualification or question." Yet the plaintiffs "are denied the basic rights that were conferred on them by another sovereign state, solely because of a discriminatory, arbitrary and irrational distinction," it says.
Palladino and Barker lived in Massachusetts when they got married in 2005 and moved to Philadelphia later that year, when Barker got a job at Bryn Mawr College. The couple had a son in 2009, and Barker said the boy has begun asking if his parents are married.
"And it's sort of befuddling to us that we don't have a really clear answer for him about that," Barker said. "If we lived in Massachusetts, we would have a very easy answer: `Yes, of course.'"
Their lawsuit, which names Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane as defendants, is at least the fifth pending legal case regarding gay marriage in Pennsylvania. A representative for Corbett did not immediately return a request for comment.
In one of the other lawsuits, Kane has refused to defend the state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. After the U.S. Supreme Court threw out part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act earlier this year, she called the Pennsylvania marriage statute unconstitutional - a statement she reiterated Thursday.
Corbett's office is now defending that case, which was filed two months ago in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania on behalf of 32 gay couples.
That complaint parallels a separate challenge filed on Sept. 25, in which 21 same-sex couples sued in state court to overturn Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage.
In another lawsuit, the state Health Department has sued to stop a Montgomery County official who decided on his own to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A couple who married using one of those licenses also has filed their own lawsuit.
Barker and Palladino's legal complaint was coordinated by the Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based gay rights organization.