(Harrisburg) -- U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III has ruled Pennsylvania's ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional.
"We now join the twelve federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage," wrote Judge Jones III.
In the 30 page opinion, Judge Jones writes that same sex marriage is "included within a fundamental right to marry".
Jones concludes his opinion by writing that the commonwealth's marriage laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and should not be enforced.
"By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth."
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III's decision Tuesday is a victory for 11 couples, a widow and one of the couples' two teenage daughters who filed the first challenge to the law. Governor Corbett's office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.
Pennsylvania was the last remaining state in the Northeast to outlaw gay marriage.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the law inflicts harm on same-sex couples and their children by depriving them of the legal protections and tax benefits afforded to married couples.
The Republican Party of Pennsylvania, in a statement, says the decision was made by an "activist judiciary" who replaced its judgment with those of elected representatives. Other critics of the decision include the Catholic Church, which argues that children are best raised with one woman and one man.
An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely.
This is at least the second controversial case that Judge John Jones III, a George Bush-appointed Republican Lutheran, has decided. He also ruled in the intelligent design case in 2005, ruling that a mandate to teach the topic was unconstitutional. He has also spoken on the topic of judicial activism, calling it a "myth".
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