Philadelphia couple seeks recognition of same-sex marriage

Posted: May 16, 2014

CARA PALLADINO and Isabelle Barker, a lesbian couple who live in the northwest section of Philadelphia, got married in February 2005 in Massachusetts - the first state to legalize same-sex marriage a decade ago.

They moved to Pennsylvania in August 2005 after Barker accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Bryn Mawr College.

Since then, they moved into Philadelphia, had a child (Barker gave birth to a son, Will, now 5, in 2009), and both now work at Bryn Mawr. Barker, 42, is an assistant dean and Palladino, 48, works in the development office.

Yesterday, the two women sat side-by-side in the front row of a federal courtroom in Philadelphia filled with supporters and attorneys.

Palladino and Barker had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last September against Gov. Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Their suit does not ask the state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Rather, it contends that the state should recognize their marriage license, legally obtained in Massachusetts, and should consider them to be spouses, thus affording them the rights and protections given to opposite-sex married couples.

During oral arguments yesterday before U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin, lawyers for Corbett and Kane asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

McLaughlin did not make a decision after the two-hour hearing, and did not say when she would.

Another lawsuit, Whitewood v. Wolf, filed in July by the ACLU in federal district court in Harrisburg, seeks to overturn Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage and to have out-of-state marriages recognized. It was filed on behalf of about two dozen Pennsylvanians who wish to marry in the state or want the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages. That decision is pending.

"Both decisions [in the Whitewood case and the Palladino case], which are from different courts in Pennsylvania, will be precedential," Michael Banks, an attorney for Palladino and Barker at the Center City firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said after yesterday's hearing.

The fundamental issue in the Palladino v. Corbett case is "whether the right of our clients . . . to marry has been taken away from them solely because of their sexual orientation, whether their constitutional rights have been denied for an improper reason," Banks said.

In court, Banks likened the arguments against same-sex marriage to the arguments against interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, calling such arguments "anachronistic and chilling." (In Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 had struck down bans on interracial marriage.)

Joel Frank, of the West Chester firm Lamb McErlane, an attorney for Corbett, told the judge that "we do acknowledge we're dealing with important sensitive issues that deal with people's lives." But, he said, this case "is about states' rights and the separation of powers."

He added that "the states have the near-exclusive authority to define marriage." Pennsylvania's law banning same-sex marriages was the "rule of the people spoken through their legislators," he said. The plaintiffs are asking for a "new definition of marriage," an issue that should be left up to the Legislature, Frank said.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to marry.

Frank noted that 33 states still define marriage in "traditional" terms.

The Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, says "marriage shall be between one man and one woman." It also makes void a "marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid" in those locales.

Palladino and Barker's lawsuit is among a flood of suits filed after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June, United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Pennsylvania, by not recognizing Palladino and Barker's Massachusetts marriage, "denies them many federal protections" and also deprives them of "more than 600 Pennsylvania-specific benefits" afforded to opposite-sex married couples, their lawsuit says.

Also pending in Pennsylvania, in the state Supreme Court, is an appeal by Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes over his issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, an LGBT civil-rights organization, which initiated the Palladino v. Corbett lawsuit, said after yesterday's hearing that as a country, "we recognize foreign marriages from Canada, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Germany, every sister country."

"But now, 33 states won't recognize the marriages of sister states," he said. "That's fundamentally wrong."

Palladino, standing next to Barker, said: "We're just living our lives and we're looking for a court to back us up in terms of recognizing our relationship and . . . "

" . . . granting the legal protections that I think we certainly deserve in terms of wanting to live our lives and raise our child," Barker added, finishing the sentence.

They left the courthouse smiling, hand in hand.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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